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Kenyan plants used in traditional herbal medicine are showing promising medicinal properties in scientific assessments of their ability to treat diseases such as herpes and malaria, according to presentations made at the 25th African Health Science Congress in Nairobi earlier this month (4-8 October).

Geoffrey Rukunga of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) said the institute is assessing how two Kenyan medicinal plants work against the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes is one of the most common viral infections in people, resulting in a range of illnesses from mildly symptomatic to life threatening diseases.

When the researchers treated mice with extracts from the African Cherry (Prunus Africana) and the Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) trees, then infected them with HSV, both infection and disease progression were slower than in untreated mice.

"There is a need to source new affordable therapeutic agents for management of HSV infections," said Rukunga, adding that further research on these plants is ongoing.

KEMRI scientists are also investigating the antimalarial effects of other Kenyan medicinal plants, either alone or in combination with chloroquine — the drug widely used to treat the disease in Africa.

"Malaria chemotherapy research is targeting use of drug combinations as a way of delaying or overcoming development of drug resistance," KEMRI's Francis Muregi told SciDev.Net. "However, very little is known about effects of combining herbal preparations with synthetic drugs."


Muregi told the congress that researchers had screened 60 extracts of 11 plants, used for control of malaria by local communities in Kenya's Kisii district, for activity against the malaria parasite.

Four plants — Ekebergia capensis, Stephania abyssinica, Ajuga remota and Clerodendrum myricoides — gave encouraging results against both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of the parasite. In later studies, the researchers found that using extracts of E. capensis and C. myricoides in combination with chloroquine was more effective that using the drug on its own.

KEMRI'S Orwa Ja told SciDev.Net that the researchers are continuing to document medicinal plants used in areas of Kenya where malaria is endemic and will collect data "which we are convinced will be useful leads into further investigations".