|Outreach No. 66 - Drugs Part 3: Herbal Medicine (New York University - TVE - UNEP - WWF, 40 p.)|
The information below is taken from:
MOVING PICTURES BULLETIN issue: January 1989.
MOVING PICTURES BULLETIN, published by TVE, is a quarterly guide to films on development and the environment.
PRODUCTION CO: Central Television for Channel 4, with WWF International and Television Trust for the Environment
PRODUCER: Herbie Girardet
DIRECTOR: Jamie Hartzell
DISTRIBUTOR: Central Independent Television International, 35-38 Portman Square, London WIA 2HZ. Telex: 24337
THIRD WORLD DISTRIBUTION: Television Trust for the Environment, 46 Charlotte St. London WIP ILX. Telex: 291721
As international concern grows over the plight of the worlds remaining tropical rainforests, JUNGLE PHARMACY investigates the untapped wealth of medicinal plants now threatened with extinction in the Amazon - and the traditional knowledge of the shaman, the tribal healers, whose fate is bound up with that of the forests.
Over a quarter of Western medicines contain plant toxins - half deriving from tropical forest species. Forest plants have been the source of some of the most effective drugs in the history of pharmacology; quinine - crucial in the fight against malaria; curare, used as a muscle relaxant in major surgery; Madagascars rosy periwinkle, providing an important new treatment for leukaemia and Hodgkins disease. There is even the possibility that, in the future, tropical forest species may yield a cure for Aids.
But so far only 2% of forest flora have been screened for their pharmaceutical potential. Jamie Hartzell films a medicinal plant course in the Peruvian jungle village of Santo Rosa, where groups of Indians have come together to pool their knowledge of plant remedies. The use of plants varies from tribe to tribe: the aim of the course is to keep the knowledge of their properties alive. Many of these remedies are currently being investigated in the research department run by Professor Norman Farnsworth at Chicagos University of Illinois. Even if the research yields no marketable drugs, it provides solid medical justification of their use by the Indians.
The danger is that Western drug companies will simply exploit local knowledge of plant species for their own profit, without the Indians reaping any of the economic benefit. This, says anthropologist Darrell Posey, would be just another form of neo-colonialism - ransacking a systematic knowledge built up over thousands of years.
Posey has spent the last 12 years in northern Brazil studying the Kayapo Indians and their use of the forest. The Indians, he believes, demonstrate an ideal model for sustainable development, managing the forest in a way that actually increases its biological diversity. And biological diversity may be the key to feeding a growing world population. As Dr Albers Schonberg, director of natural products at Merck, New Jersey, explains: if we want genetic engineering, we need genetic diversity. The hope must now be that new scientific interest in the flora and fauna of the tropical forests can bring a halt in their wholesale destruction.
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