|Traditional Medicinal Plants (Dar Es Salaam University Press - Ministry of Health - Tanzania, 1991, 391 p.)|
|OPENING SESSION: WELCOME AND OPENING ADDRESSES|
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Allow me, first of all, to express Tanzania's pleasure and gratitude for the honour and privilege to host this international conference on traditional medicinal plants. It is also a great honour for me personally to be invited to open this important conference.
Before I do so, I wish to take this opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to all our distinguished guests who have travelled a long way to come and share their knowledge and experience with us. We in Tanzania are very happy to have you in our midst. We wish you a happy and successful visit to our country. Please feel at home. KARIBU SANA.
I would also like to express my deep appreciation to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the South Commission for organizing this conference on a subject which is of great interest and importance to all of us in the South. The presence of so many eminent experts and other dignitaries at this conference is a clear testimony of the continued importance of traditional medicine in the South.
As we all know, traditional medicine has for many years, been the main form of treatment of several maladies in many developing countries. But as more and more countries achieved their independence, several governments including that of Tanzania embarked on ambitious programmes to expand modern health services as part of their efforts to improve the quality of life of their people. Those programmes included the expansion and construction of hospitals, health centres, dispensaries and clinics. Efforts to train doctors, nurses and other health service staff were also intensified.
Remarkable progress has been recorded in many developing countries. But the task of providing modern health services in the South is far from being accomplished. Its accomplishment wilt take longer than most of us had expected because the demand for modern health services continues to expand, especially as the population in many of our countries also continues to grow. It will be recalled, for example, that at the time of independence, Tanzania had a population of about 9 million people. Today we are more than 23 million.
But the task of providing modern health services in the South has been made even more difficult by the severe economic crisis which has affected many developing countries. The crisis has greatly undermined the ability of many governments to sustain existing health services, let alone to expand them. As a result of that crisis many hospitals in some of our countries lack essential drugs and equipment, whose prices are rising sharply.
There is a more fundamental factor which needs our close attention. I am sure you know better than I do that modern or allopathic medicine has proved ineffective in the treatment of such maladies as asthma, cancer, heart problems, mental diseases, and now AIDS. Yet evidence does exist that traditional medicine and some medicinal plants do provide hope for the treatment of several maladies, where allopathic medicine has failed. We also know very well that some of the pharmaceutical used in hospitals originate from those medicinal plants which have been traditionally applied by our communities for many years.
All that evidence points to the need for the intensification of research on the exploitation and scientific application of those plants for the benefit of our people. I believe that such research would benefit immensely from the knowledge and practice of those who have been applying the medicinal plants to their patients. It is my sincere hope, therefore, that these engaged in the research on medicinal plants will strive to work in close collaboration and cooperation with prominent traditional medicinemen.
I am confident that the results of the research will not only expand our scientific knowledge of the medicinal plants, but also lead to their optimal utilization in the treatment of many diseases. That will greatly complement the role played by allopathic medicine in the South and reduce the costs of health services, since there is an abundance of medicinal plants in many developing countries. Those important natural resources should be fully exploited for the benefit of the people of the South.
I fully recognize that cooperation among developing countries is essential to ensure the maximum exploitation and utilization of the medicinal plants, abundantly available in the South. Such cooperation is especially important because scientific research on medicinal plants has been going on for a long time in some developing countries. Some have even developed the scientific and technological capacity for the exploitation and utilization of some of those plants.
Cooperation among developing countries in this important field will enhance our collective capacity to identify the most useful medicinal plants available in our respective countries. It will also greatly facilitate an exchange of information and knowledge on their cultivation, processing, distribution and application. Time has, therefore, come for developing countries to establish an organ which wilt bring together the best expertise, which will be charged with the responsibility of coordinating research, monitoring technological developments in the processing of medicinal plants and facilitating the scientific application of traditional medicine. The organ should also look into various legislation which inhibit a broader application of traditional medicine in our societies and recommend measures for correcting them.
South-South Cooperation in the exploitation and application of medicinal plants will also ensure that those natural resources are used for the maximum benefit of the people of the South. As we are all aware the countries of the North have also intensified their search for healing substances from plants which naturally grow in the South. Those countries have the capacity to siphon our natural raw materials at a very low cost and then sell to us the processed products at very high prices.
That is what is happening to our copper, cotton, sisal and other raw materials, which we export to the North at cheap prices. The main cause of our current economic problems is that we have been placed in the perpetual position of exporting cheap raw materials and importing expensive industrial goods from the North. So as the world commodity prices continue to decline, our economic situation also deteriorates.
That could also happen to our medicinal plants. The countries of the North will make every effort to get those plants at very cheap prices and process them in their industries. We will then be placed in the same situation of importing expensive drugs from the developed countries. I call upon the countries of the South to resist those attempts by pooling together their resources and technology in order to strengthen their collective capacity to produce their own drugs from their own plants. That will greatly reduce our independence on the imports of expensive medicine from the developed countries.
By doing so, we will have made a practical contribution to the implementation of our broader objectives for collective self- reliance in the South. Collective self-reliance will not only strengthen our efforts to improve the living conditions of our people, but it will also improve our bargaining power, as we strive to establish more mutually beneficial relationships between the North and the South.
It is my sincere hope, therefore, that this workshop will discuss, among other things, ways and means of strengthening South-South Cooperation in the utilisation of the wide variety of medicinal plants, abundantly available in our countries. I am confident that the recommendations of this workshop will help us move a step forward towards collective self-reliance in this vital sector of health.
I therefore wish you great success in your deliberations.