Herbs have a role in fighting malaria, conference hears

Jars of seeds and tree bark used in African traditional medicine. Copyright: WHO / P. Virot

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Traditional African herbs are a vital weapon in the fight against malaria, the 5th MIM Pan African Malaria Conference heard this week.

The medicines could prevent many deaths among poor people who cannot afford modern drugs and do not have access to the free treatment available in some African countries, delegates heard.

"More research must be directed towards finding out the effectiveness of these traditional medicinal plants and their safety and efficacy because initiatives on using them could be counter-productive if this is not done," said Doumbo Ogobara, director of the Mali Malaria Research and Training Centre and a lecturer at the University of Bamako. "More emphasis therefore must be laid on research for plant-based prophylactics for malaria."

India was cited as an example of a developing country that has successfully used medicinal plants.

"Research in India has shown a 5–10 times reduction in malaria-related deaths among communities who use traditional medicinal plants like Guduchi [tinospore coeditdia]," said BN Prakash, researcher with the Bangalore-based Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions.

But delegates were warned to proceed with caution: "People are dying even in places where there is still widespread use of traditional medicinal plants … many traditional healers will abuse this and give anything as medicine so long as it is a plant — we must urge caution," said Mahamadou Sissoko, also from the Mali centre.

Link to full article in IRIN News