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Experts: `Malaria trees` endangered

Discussion in 'Tech, Gadgets & Science Forum' started by BabuK, Apr 22, 2011.

  1. BabuK

    BabuK JF-Expert Member

    Apr 22, 2011
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    Tanzania is one of three East African countries where scientists fear trees and shrubs used in malaria treatment may disappear owing to widespread deforestation and over-exploitation for medical use.
    Researchers and scientists have called upon the government to put into action the existing laws to curb deforestation. However, the national medical research body is concerned at the lack of domestication efforts and policies to protect the plants and provide supports for traditional medical practitioners and herbal medicines.
    A new book by researchers at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) titled: “Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa”, names 22 plants in East Africa with promising antimalarial qualities but which researchers fear are at risk of extinction.
    The book was released yesterday in anticipation of World Malaria Day.
    The researchers say that the plants have been used in the treatment of malaria symptoms in the region’s communities for hundreds of years
    “We hope that the information provided in this guide will be useful for scientists in determining what species to direct their research activities into,” reads the report in part, adding that it would support further cultivation of these trees and shrubs.
    Commenting on the study, Hamis Malebo, Principal Research Scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), a national body that oversees all regulatory of health researches in Tanzania, said lack of policy hindered efforts to protect and promote plants with antimalarial qualities.
    “There is also lack of domestication efforts to help farmers get markets for such trees,” he said in an interview in Dar es Salaam.
    Kenya has, for example, domesticated Ocimum, a weed plant grown in Kakamega District and used for malaria treatments, a move which is believed to have helped farmers start exporting the processed plant and improve on their incomes.
    Malebo also cited Mundai Whytei, a plant said to increase potency in males and sold by Maasai herbal hawkers in the country. The government in Kenya supported efforts to make powder out of the plant and it was now available in most supermarkets.
    “A policy is important or the trees might disappear soon,” he said.
    Available national statistics suggest that fuel wood and the agricultural activities, which account for 92 per cent of the total energy consumption in the country, are the leading cause of deforestation.
    The United States-based environmental watchdog Conservation International (CI) suggests that Tanzania is set to lose its forest cover within the next 100-160 years unless more efforts are exerted to reduce the current rate of deforestation.
    The researchers who collected data across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania met approximately 180 herbalists and 100 malaria patients in 30 separate communities.
    One of the drugs most widely used historically to treat malaria, quinine, was derived from the bark of the cinchona tree in South America, the report says.
    Wenceslaus Leonard Kilama, a retired Tanzanian malaria researcher and Professor of Parasitology, said in an interview that cinchona trees in the country were being cut and its barks exported whereas the technology of making quinine was domestically known and it was not patented.
    “The sad thing is that we were making quinine in the country before the WWI,” said Prof Kilama and called upon researchers to interact with entrepreneurs to find ways to commercialise the trees.”
    The researchers hope that the report will contribute to further use of the identified species, better health care in the region and higher revenues for growers, as well as improving the livelihoods of practitioners of traditional medicine.
    Artemisia annua shrub is the world’s newest, most effective therapeutic treatment for malaria, which also comes from a plant. However, researchers say access to malaria therapies based on artemisinin compounds remains low — around 15 percent in most parts of Africa and well below the World Health Organizations’ 80 percent target.
    Tanzania is one of the world’s worst malaria-affected countries, recording 14 to 18 million clinical cases annually and 60,000 deaths, 80 percent of them in children under five years old, according to a 2010 malaria reduction plan put together by USAID.