News / Africa

Africa's Malaria-Fighting Trees Threatened

An herbalist selling medicinal plants in Shinyanga, Tanzania.
An herbalist selling medicinal plants in Shinyanga, Tanzania.

Multimedia

Audio

Researchers warn that East African plants that could cure malaria could disappear before scientists have a chance to study them.

The World Health Organization estimates 800,000 people die of malaria each year, most of them young children in Africa.

A new book by scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre, "Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa," identifies 22 tree and shrub species that traditional healers in East Africa use to fight the disease.

But, the researchers say, they are being cut down for cooking fuel and other uses and could disappear before scientists have a chance to study them.

Herbal medicine

A person suffering from malaria in East Africa is likely to visit a local herbalist for treatment. Lead author Najma Dharani at the World Agroforestry Center in Kenya says the traditional healer may recommend the patient take a few grams of a plant known locally as knobwood.

Either root or bark may be used, fresh or as powder. "It's quite bitter," she says. "Drink it for three or four days, until it cures a person."

Dharani and her colleagues at the Kenya Medical Research Institute have used modern science to identify promising malaria-fighting compounds in knobwood and 21 other trees and shrubs native to the region.

The threatened African wild olive, Olea africana, has anti-malarial properties that scientists say deserve further study.
The threatened African wild olive, Olea africana, has anti-malarial properties that scientists say deserve further study.

Traditional cures at risk

She has spent the last 12 years studying medicinal plants in East Africa with the potential to treat a range of diseases. A lot more research is needed to identify how effective they are and how they work, but she notes that they have been used by traditional healers for centuries.

"This is not today's knowledge," she says. "This is very old knowledge, indigenous knowledge, which has been disappearing because the youngsters don't take it (up)."

The knowledge is not all that's disappearing. Dharani says the some of these anti-malarial trees and shrubs are being cut down at an alarming pace, along with other wood in the area, largely to make charcoal. That's the cooking fuel of choice for many poor people around the world who can't afford other options.

Limited options for treatment

She understands the economic motivation to cut down the trees. But, she says, it will be these same poor people who will ultimately suffer.

"They don't have access to clinics. They don't have doctors," she says. "They have to go hundreds of kilometers to reach clinics. So, it's so very important for local communities to conserve these trees. If [the trees] completely vanish, they will remain with nothing."

The World Agroforestry Center is working to reduce deforestation by encouraging people to grow their own trees for timber or firewood, rather than harvesting the forest. The center also is helping communities plant medicinal trees and shrubs, and conserving samples of the trees in its genebanks and nurseries.

Knobwood extract would not be the first plant to cure malaria. The first anti-malarial drug, quinine, came from the bark of a South American tree. The latest treatment, artemisinin, comes from a Chinese shrub. The next cure could come from East Africa -- but not if the last tree is burned up as charcoal.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid