AFRICA: Turning to traditional medicines in fight against malaria

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Peter, a clinical officer, treats a patient at
the Gongoni health centre in Malindi, Kenya (file photo).

Malaria Cure

Photo: Stephenie Hollyman/WHO

Malaria kills a million people
across Africa every year

NAIROBI, (IRIN) - Encouraging the use of
traditional African herbal medicines could
prevent some of the one million
malarial deaths on the continent, according
to specialists attending
a conference in Nairobi.

Many poor communities, especially
in rural settings, cannot afford
modern malarial drugs and many people
die due to inaccessibility of treatment.

"Malaria kills many people in Africa,
both children and adults, despite
the availability of free treatment
in certain African countries. While it is true
many governments in Africa,
with development partners, give
free pediatric treatment for malaria,
many still cannot access this facilities
and resort to home treatment,"
says Merlin Wilcox of the Research Initiative
on Traditional Antimalarial Methods
and the University of Oxford.

Some specialists at the ongoing
5th MIM Pan African Malaria Conference
in Nairobi said medicines drawn from plants
that abound in the continent could be
utilized to save many people, especially
those in poor settings, from malaria.

BN Prakash, a researcher with
the Foundation for the Revitalization
of Local Health Traditions, based in Bangalore,
said Africa could draw on experiences
in India where medicinal plants have been
used with great success
in the control of malaria-related deaths.

"Research in India has shown
a 5-10 times reduction in
malaria-related deaths among communities
who use traditional medicinal plants
like Guduchi [tinospore coeditdia],
a local medicinal plant
found in India," said Prakash.

Preserving traditional knowledge

Another speaker, Gemma Burford
of the Global Initiative for Traditional
Systems of Health, said while there had
been increased cases of loss of knowledge
about traditional medicinal plants,
student-led research could be used
to preserve knowledge and create
a database on these plants.
Treating malaria with commercial medicine
is expensive and not always viable;
hence the need for more research
into traditional, plant-based options

"When we carried out research involving
school children in rural Tanzania about
traditional Maasai medicines, we found out
that 48 percent of these children already
had knowledge about these plants.
We used [this knowledge] to create
a database for the purposes of preserving
the knowledge and these plants too," said Burford.

"It is important to note that many
malarial drugs are still bought from
commercial pharmaceutical shops
and not many of them are that cheap.
Costs also involve how easy or not it is
to access these government facilities,
especially in Africa where medical facilities
are far-flung," Burford said.

Educating the youth

Speakers at the conference called
on African governments to introduce
educational programmes that would
teach the younger generations
about the traditional methods
of treating malaria and other
diseases plaguing the continent.

"The biggest obstacle to use
of traditional medicines is lack of interest
from the youth and teaching them
about these medicines would be
the best way to let them appreciate their values.

Evangelical churches and development agencies
must also be persuaded to stop
fighting traditional African medicine
because modernity and tradition
can be married to provide
 a formidable force against malaria," added Burford.

Effectiveness and dangers

Doumbo Ogobara, director of the
Mali Malaria Research and Training Centre,
and a lecturer at the University of Bamako,
said there should be more research
to ensure the effectiveness
of traditional medicinal plants
in the treatment and management of malaria.

"More research must be directed
towards finding out the effectiveness
of these traditional medicinal plants
and their safety and efficacy
because initiatives on using them
could be counter-productive if this
is not done.

More emphasis therefore must be laid
on research for plant-based
prophylactics for malaria," said Ogobara.

Mahamadou Sissoko of the Centre
called for caution in taking
the traditional medicinal route, arguing
that many malaria-related deaths
have occurred even among communities
that have relied heavily
on traditional plants for treatment.

"People are dying even in places
where there is still widespread use
of traditional medicinal plants and
unless the efficacy of a traditional plant
on malarial treatment can be ascertained
through vigorous research,
we could have our backs against the wall.

Many traditional healers will abuse
this and give anything as medicine
so long as it is a plant - we must
urge caution," said Sissoko.


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Sent from Kigali, Rwanda

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