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close this bookTraditional Medicinal Plants (Dar Es Salaam University Press - Ministry of Health - Tanzania, 1991, 391 p.)
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General Summary

1. Introduction

1.1 Traditional medicine has been always a key resource to meet the health needs of Third World peoples. In the past, it was in fact, the only way which existed in the Third World to meet such needs. But even today, in spite of the widespread advances of the modern medicine model, according to the World Health Organization, most people of the Third World continue to rely on their traditional medicine to meet their primary health needs. This very resilience of traditional medicine in the face of advances of modern medicine says a great deal about its effectiveness since health is one vital need people cannot afford to deal with lightly or ineffectively.

1.2 Moreover, increasingly apparent shortcomings of the Western medical model to meet the health needs of people, particularly in the field of growing lifestyle-related endemic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular ailments as well as the increasingly staggering cost of modern medical care, are creating an upsurge of interest in the benefits of the more holistic and less expensive traditional medicine to treat those health problems on which modern medicine seems to be systematically failing. Regarding the cost factor, it is necessary to add that in the case of Third World countries, the dramatic worsening of their economic situation and their almost total dependence on the importation of modern pharmaceutical drugs and technology from the North, is accelerating their renewed interest in the more indigenous-based traditional medicine as an alternative to redress the inadequacies of their modern health system and in order to be more self-reliant.

1.3 The use of traditional medicinal plants has been the basis of the practice of traditional medicine in the South. Most of the medicinal plants of the world are, by and large, located in the tropical areas of the South, which contain about two-thirds of the plant species of the world, out of which at least 35,000 are estimated to have some medicinal value. A number of these plants appear to be on the verge of extinction because of man's irresponsible destruction of their natural ecosystems, which makes such plants even more valuable.

1.4 However, the sovereign use by countries of the South of these valuable resources for the benefits of their people is threatened by the unchecked profit-making interests of the major pharmaceutical companies of the North. Indeed, the exploitation of medical plants has become a booming business to the tune of billions of dollars in terms of world production and trade. But the problem is that such companies, which have for many years held a monopolistic control on the production of synthetic chemical drugs, are now in the process of expanding that control into the field of herbal remedies, through an unscrupulous acquisition of the plant species and knowledge of the traditional peoples of the Third World. They are also restricting patenting and privatisation of the plant species and knowledge of the traditional peoples of the Third World for their monopolistic use to the detriment of the rights and interests of Third World. This disquieting situation calls for militant action on the part of the countries of the South to defend their rights, and for an international cooperative action to ensure that the precious medicinal plant resources of the Third World are protected from the monopolistic privatisation drive of the transnational pharmaceutical companies and are preserved and developed for the democratic and equitable benefits of the world's peoples.

1.5 In the light of the above situation, the countries of the South should vigorously strengthen their cooperation in the fields of drawing up inventories, nationally and collectively, of their medicinal plant resources, as well as in the cultivation, processing, marketing and in general widening the use of herbal medicine to meet the health needs of their peoples, in accordance with the objectives of self-reliance, respect of cultural heritage and of the integrity of the natural ecosystem.

2. Preamble

The overall objective of a South - South cooperation on medicinal plants should be the optimal utilisation of these plants in a standardised form by the people of the developing countries.

3. Objectives

3.1 To provide a forum for exchange of information and experience in the use of medicinal plants and related programmes in developing countries.

3.2 To discuss modalities of cooperation in drawing up of systematic inventories on the use of medicinal plants including their comparative analysis.

3.3 To review cooperation on the joint promotion of the use of medicinal plants including cultivation, processing and marketing.

3.4 To discuss issues related to ethnobotany and conservation of medicinal plants.

3.5 To review the implementation of financial, institutional, technical resources and legal requirements for promoting cooperation.

4. Exchange of Information and Experience

4.1 In order to fulfill the first objective, generation of information is required, based on research which will provide scientific back-up for the efficacy and use of medicinal plants.

4.2 The International Conference noted that:

4.2.1 There is inadequate exploitation and utilisation of the existing information that has already been generated by researchers for the benefit of the people.

4.2.2 Not all institutes of Research in Traditional Medicine have the facilities to work on medicinal plants in a multidisciplinary way involving herbalists, botanists, pharmacists, medical doctors, anthropologists, etc. collaborating together.

4.2.3 There is existing information about safe and efficacious medicinal plants in some countries of the South (especially China, Egypt, India and several other Asian countries) which could be tapped by other countries of the South.

4.2.4 There is existing expertise on modes of production of extracts, powders, tea bags and other simple dosage forms from medicinal plants in the Asian countries that can be tapped.

4.2.5 The present meeting has provided a temporary forum for exchange of information on the development of medicinal plants. On a long-term basis, the non-aligned countries have designated the Republic of Korea to see to the modalities for providing a permanent structure for such information exchange on medicinal plants.

4.2.6 Researches carried out and being carried out on medicinal plants continue to produce patentable information which should be protected on a Regional basis

5. Inventories of Medicinal Plants and their Analysis

5.1 The Conference recognised that medicinal plants are already playing a major role in the health care of the population of the South. While the efforts that have already been made in the research and development of medicinal plants are welcomed and appreciated, it is recognised that these undertakings are often uncoordinated and that results from such efforts are minimally disseminated and have limited application to the health problems of the population of the countries of the South. It is also recognised that the economic benefits that could be derived from the exportation of medicinal plants is not being realised. It is recognised that traditional medicine research in the countries of the South is in different stages of development.

6. Promotion of Use of Medicinal Plants

6.1 There are no readily accessible data banks at regional and interregional levels for traditional medicinal plants.

There is a great need to create a data bank of traditional medicine incorporating such information as:

· local and scientific name and identity of the plant;
· latitude, longitude and altitude for cultivation;
· morphology of the part used (root, bark, flower, seed, etc.);
· use and form in which part is used.

7. Ethnobotany and Conservation

7.1 Cultivation and large scale farming of traditional herbs will facilitate promotion of traditional medicine. In this regard attention should be paid to:

· collection;
· drying under shade to preserve vitality;
· quality control to preserve somatic homogeneity;
· products should be given an expiry date;
· hygienic conditions to be used in preservation and storage; and
· conservation in situ and ex situ should be done with special attention to endangered species.

8. Resources for Implementation

8.1 In order to implement the recommendations contained in the first four objectives, it is imperative that financial, institutional, technical and legal requirements to promote cooperation be established.


9. The conference agreed on the following recommendations:

9.1 On exchange of information

9.1.1 As far as possible, research centres on medical plant development should work in a multidisciplinary manner involving the traditional healers and the relevant science discipline from the countries of the South.

9.1.2 Efforts should be made to transfer existing information and expertise on medicinal plants to the other countries of the South for immediate application as appropriate.

9.1.3 Priority should be given to research which will generate information that could provide scientific backing for the efficacy of traditional medicinal plants, their standardisation and their formulation into simple dosage forms.

9.1.4 A list should be generated of existing expertise and research and development facilities in the countries of the South for researchers, to reduce dependence on the countries of the North for assistance.

9.1.5 Information generated on medicinal plants should be diffused not only among scientists, but also among the traditional healers and the people as much as possible through newsletters, the mass media, symposia, and the recognised scientific journals.

9.1.6 Existing regional facilities protecting discoveries should be strengthened to cover new developments emanating from medicinal plant development work.

9.2 On Inventories of Medicinal Plants and their Analysis

9.2.1 A mechanism for every region of the South, and an interregional mechanism for the selection of research priorities should be established. It is important that regular meetings for these bodies should be held to oversee the smooth functioning of such mechanisms.

9.2.2 National research centres should be identified and linked into a regional network, with well-defined tasks to be undertaken on behalf of the countries of the South.

9.2.3 These national research centres and all other centres within the network should be strengthened to undertake the denied allocated tasks.

9.2.4 National surveys of medicinal plants should be undertaken by all countries of the South. Such surveys should identify medicinal plants that could be utilized in the health services system.

9.2.5 Because of the diversity of ethnopharmacological information that may be generated from various regions and provinces in the same country, plant surveys should be initiated at sub-national levels. Information derived from these surveys should be analysed locally as well as at national levels. Furthermore, these national surveys of medicinal plants should be geared towards solutions of the prevailing major health problems.

9.3 On Ethnobotany and Conservation

9.3.1 Practical exchange of ethnobotanical information should be encouraged.

9.3.2 Selection of herbs for cultivation should be geared towards solving pertinent health problems locally or regionally.

9.3.3 Harvesting and processing of medicine plants should be done so as to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.

9.3.4 Inventories of expertise should be undertaken at local, regional and interregional levels.

9.3.5 Extension services and education which are a necessary feature in promotional use of traditional medicines should be encouraged and adequately strengthened.

9.3.6 Pricing and profit levels which ensure the widest access to herbal remedies should be established and maintained.

9.3.7 Regional laboratories should be identified which should study and analyse traditional medicinal plants of selected major therapeutic values and promulgate standards of efficacy.

9.3.8 A national list of essential traditional herbal remedies should be established which should correspond to the prevailing common diseases pattern.

9.4 On Resources for Implementation

9.4.1 An interregional mechanism should be established in order to:

· keep under review the progress made in the implementation of the proposed recommendations; and

· undertake such new actions, as necessary, in order to strengthen cooperation among countries of the South in the field of medicinal plants.

The interregional mechanism should aim at the holding of bi-annual meetings in order to facilitate this work.

9.4.2 Until the first biannual meeting is held, the government of the United Republic of Tanzania should act as the interim secretariat. To this end, all participants and concerned international institutions should assist the Tanzanian Government in the facilitation of this study.

9.4.3 An initial plan of action is recommended for each member country to work upon. This would be on the theme of utilization of medicinal plants in health care system.

9.4.4 Countries should be encouraged to create national bodies to handle medicinal plants research development, dissemination and utilization from a multidisciplinary and inter-institutional approach.

9.4.5 Interest should be raised to donor and cooperation agencies to make financial and technical resources available for national; regional and international levels in the field of medicinal plant research and application.

9.4.6 Each Member State of the South should endeavour to adopt at national level, the various recommendations contained in the subject one to four and earmark specific and significant resources to implement them.

9.4.7 The interim coordinating secretariat as well as Member States should liaise with existing organizations working on the development of medicinal plants in their respective regions.

9.4.8 An interim international organizing committee should be appointed by this Conference to monitor progress of implementation of the recommendations made at this meeting and prepare for the next meeting.

9.4.9 Legislation to foster the use of herbal medicine in health services should be undertaken by all the countries of the South bearing in mind the distinctive nature of herbal medicine. To this end, the experience of other countries and international organizations such as WHO and the International Drug Regulatory Authorities should be made readily available to countries in need of such information.

9.4.10 Claims of intellectual property rights such as patents on plant-derived remedies should ensure that persons and communities involved in the discovery of the drug (including traditional practitioners who supply information that may lead to new discoveries) are appropriately rewarded. Countries should have a policy on how potential income from this discovery might be distributed including ensuring popular access to such remedies at a cost the communities can afford.

9.5 Known pharmacologically active produces (for example tincture of atropine) derived from local plants as well as pharmaceutical aids (such as starch which can be locally extracted and produced) should be manufactured as import substitutes and used as part of the national essential drugs programme.

9.6 Programmes for the production of standardised and safe galenical traditional preparations for use in the health service should be established.

9.7 The recommendations of the Conference should be brought to the attention of the highest national authorities and governing bodies of relevant international agencies and non-governmental organizations.


10. On Recommendations 9.4.8 the following resolutions were made:

10.1 The recommendation referred to above was unanimously accepted.

10.2 The Principal Secretary, Ministry of Health, Tanzania, was appointed to serve as Interim Secretary for steering progress towards preparation for the next meeting, and also towards implementing the rest of the recommendations.