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Health: Lobbying for law to protect medicinal plants

IN Tanzania especially in rural areas where the majority of the community live. People rely heavily on medicinal plants because they are relatively accessible, inexpensive and locally available when compared to conventional medicine.

There is a shortage of medical doctors and other experts. Thus making it necessary for most of rural communities to rely exclusively on medicinal plants for meeting healthcare needs.

Dr Joseph Otieno, the Director of the Institute of Traditional Medicine at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), says there are opportunities and challenges in promotion of traditional medicine and medicinal plants products in Tanzania and other developing countries.

However, he says, currently there is no specific systematic study that has attempted to assess traditional medicine resources in Tanzania.

There is health risk due to lack of knowledge on how to use traditional medicine as there is limited knowledge on precautions when preparing and administering herbal formulations, including the right dosage per age, weight and the contra indications to different categories of clients

A two year research on identifications of traded medicinal plants of Tanzania by using DNA bar-coding, funded by Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) reveals that most traditional medicine traders have not understood the uses of traditional medicine.

“The research conducted in various market areas in the country indicated that currently there is an increase of practitioners of alternative medicines and traditional medicine in Tanzania. The alternative medicines and modern medicine were increasing competition to traditional medicine, Dr Otieno told the ‘Daily news’.

Dr Otieno said that this challenge has led to influx of fake traditional medicine in the market causing negative effects on the human beings. In addition, researchers have revealed that there were multinational gene hunters involved in traditional medicine research and bio prospecting.

The research has been conducted in over ten regions across the country including Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam region, Tanga, Morogoro, Dodoma, Iringa, Mbeya, Songwe, Njombe, Arusha, Mwanza and Sumbawanga market in Rukwa Region.

He pointed out that the main aim of the research was to recognize traditional medicines and its market value chain from harvesting to where it is sold locally and internationally.

“ We also wanted to know and improve the storage of traditional medicine in order to increase income to sellers. We recognize that a total of 873 samples of medicinal plants were in the market and the traditional names of those sample are 452,” he said.

He explained that in terms of DNA, they recognized that only 112 medicinal plants are in the market where moistly of medicinal plants are harvested from the Usambara mountain, Coas Region and other regions in Tanzania.

Dr Otieno mentioned some medicinal plants used in traditional medicines as Mlungulungu, Mfuleta, Mlama, Mpaja, Mkundekunde and Msandali.

What’s more traditional medicine had no scientific evidence to offer for general public health care when compared to conventional medicine.

Indigenous medical knowledge and technology, including when and how to collect herbal plants, mode of preparation, storage facilities and the mode of treatment of illnesses emphasized in traditional medicine was being associated with the practice of witchcraft.

“Thus, there is need to assess the natural and human resources needed in traditional medicine in order to identify and document actual opportunities, threats, constraints and future prospects of the traditional medicine and medicinal plants,” he noted.

Dr Otieno added that the increase of traditional medicines in the markets has also resulted in the disappearance of many plants, leading to droughts and hunger.

“Tanzanians should be educated well on how to use traditional medicine to avoid any negative impacts that may arise due to misuse of those medicines. We planned to educate traditional medicine traders in order to increase awareness on the uses and its benefit to the people,” he said, adding :Development of traditional medicine needs funds for conservation of medicinal plants in the respective countries to identify endangered species.

Other possible hurdles of growth of traditional medicine in the markets are accessing the medicinal plants from the local reserved areas. An access to medicinal plants is also compounded by by-laws, which are conflicting given the multiple uses as natural resources

Dr Otieno has advised the government to enact genetic laws or regulations of plants and wildlife that will be used to prosecute people who will be arrested for stealing herbs.

He went on saying that the law would help to prohibit the harvest of medicinal plants, especially by foreigners, without permission from responsible authorities.

Dr Otieno said that the genetic law would help to recognize those people who harvest medicinal herbs without permission from the government and.

“It is true that our herbs have been harvested and used contrary to the law. If the government formulates a proper law that prohibits the production of our medicinal plants, our plants will be protected. Traditional medicines are very important in human lives,” Dr Otieno said.

He said it had been also revealed that many people are involved in traditional medicine were hardly aware of the negative effects on human health.

“Nowadays many people do this business… but, they are not aware of the negative impacts of the human health. There are an increase demand of herbal medicine worldwide. he said. Dr Otieno thanks Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) for their financial support in ensuring Medicinal plants in Tanzania are recognized and preserved well for the benefit of all people.

The increasing demand on medicinal plants was due to high cost in conventional medicine, which has been ever increasing to users in developing countries and often inaccessible. Many plant species had become extinct and some were being endangered.

Even though traditional medicine and medicinal plants are still having great prospects in the present competitive healthcare system. The identified challenges like threats, constraints in this study and those reviewed should be addressed in order to ensure their sustainable development especially in developing countries.

Currently there are inadequate human resource in the health sector in Tanzania and other developing countries; including limited health facilities and medical supplies for healthcare of the people and lack of support from policy makers and enforceable legal framework.

It is being argued that effort is needed to make the policy makers and implementers to see traditional medicine and medicinal plants are used for better health and wellbeing of the people in the world in order to meet the health millennium goals by 2025.

President John Magufuli takes over the ...

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Author: FATMA ABDU

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