threat of extinction for Medical plants

threat of extinction for Medical plants

Medicinal plants are globally valuable sources of new drugs. Some top prescription drugs are based on natural sources. Furthermore, a greater percentage of people in developing countries are totally dependent on herbal drugs for their primary healthcare.

With the increasing demand for herbal drugs, natural health products, and secondary metabolites of medicinal plants, the use of medicinal plants is growing rapidly throughout the world. However, Roots are the most common parts of medicinal plants used, and use of the plants roots destroys plants and may result in some plants being extinct.
A highly conservative estimate states that the current loss of plant species is between 100 and 1000 times higher than the expected natural extinction rate and that the Earth is losing at least one potential major drug every 2 years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is fully aware of the importance of herbal medicines to many of its Member States, of which Lesotho is part of, and supports the use of medicinal plants and their products.

The World Health Assembly proposed coordinating efforts through the preparation of an inventory of medicinal plants, the development of criteria and methods for proving the safety and efficacy of medicinal plant products, and the dissemination of relevant information.

From 1987, three more resolutions were adopted covering the identification, evaluation, preparation, cultivation, utilisation, regulation and conservation of medicinal plants.
Based on those resolutions, WHO’s policy on herbal medicine may be summarized as follows:

(1) WHO is fully aware of the importance of herbal medicines for the health of a large number of the population in today’s world. Herbal medicines are recognized as valuable and readily available resources, and their appropriate use is encouraged;

(2) To promote the proper use of medicinal plants, a comprehensive programme for their identification, evaluation, preparation, cultivation, recognition as valuable and readily available resources, and their appropriate use is encouraged;

(3) It is necessary to make a systematic inventory and assessment (pre-clinical and clinical) of medicinal plants; to introduce measures on the regulation of herbal medicines to ensure quality control of herbal products by using modern techniques, applying suitable standards and good manufacturing practices; and to include herbal medicines in the national standard or pharmacopoeia.

(4) As many of the plants that provide traditional and modern drugs are threatened with extinction, WHO endorses the call for international cooperation and coordination to establish programmes for the conservation of medicinal plants, to ensure that adequate quantities are available for future generations.
Harvesting of herbal medicines is predominant in Lesotho and remains unregulated. For medicinal plants with limited abundance and slow growth, destructive harvesting generally results in

resource exhaustion and even species extinction. Therefore, the sustainable use of medicinal plants should be considered, and good harvesting practices must be formulated. Root and whole-plant harvesting is more destructive to medicinal plants. All the relevant Ministries must thus take heed before it is too late. The public must also be warned of this danger.

  •  Retšelisitsoe Nkhahle is a Mosotho pharmacist based in Botswana. She is pursuing an Msc. in Pharmacy.

Retšelisitsoe Nkhahle

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