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Plants bring hope for malaria treatment

5th February 2013

Researchers in Benin are studying the use of plants used by traditional healers to treat malaria.


They say that the country's traditional healers have a sophisticated understanding of how to treat malaria with plants and herbs. They are calling for strategies that make use of this traditional knowledge, as well as conservation of the plants used in malaria treatments.

The researchers made a catalogue of more than 80 plants used by traditional healer's in the country's Allada plateau region, which are used as antimalarial therapies in traditional healing systems. They wanted to evaluate the country's own traditional knowledge resources and techniques for treating malaria in the face of growing resistance to current, front-line treatments.

The focus on traditional medicine has also been fuelled by an increase in the resistance of HIV viruses to antiretroviral treatments, making recourse to medicinal plants a therapeutic option in medicine in Benin.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers led by Marius Yetein of the University of Abomey-Calavi in Cotonou, said they had collected data using a questionnaire from 23 traditional healers and 30 medicinal plant sellers in the target region. They found that traditional healers will use as many as 82 plants species in 43 different plant families, to treat the disease.

Many of the plants came from the Rubiaceae and Caesalpiniaceae, with seven species each, although the most-often cited was Dichapetalum madagascariense as useful in malaria cases. The plants are mostly delivered after boiling the appropriate parts to make a tea or soup. Many of the species, according to Yetein, including citrus lemon, are used in prevention of malaria.

Socio-cultural preference and rising healthcare costs mean that more than 80% of Beninois use traditional medicine, according to a report by the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2009.

The authors hope their research will contribute to the conservation of traditional knowledge of antimalarial plants and to the improvement of malaria management.

Further screening of plants was necessary, however, to find out which could form the basis of efficient malaria drugs, Yetein said.

Meanwhile, Guy Apollinaire Mensah, who directs Benin's National Institute for Agricultural Research, said that increasing resistance of the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite to conventional treatment renders the study highly relevant and timely. He said that screening the plants documented in the study would boost the repertoire of health services in treating the disease. But he said that the search for a potential vaccine against malaria should not be abandoned.

The study will be passed on to the Benin health ministry after it is finalised, in the hope that the government will screen the plants for antimalarial properties.



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