n African Renaissance - The status of African medicinal plants and their future

Volume 4 Number 3-4
  • ISSN : 1744-2532
  • E-ISSN: 2516-5305


Africans have been plagued by so-called neglected diseases such as filariasis (elephantiasis), schistosomiasis (bilharziasis), leprosy, malaria, and a host of other communicable diseases. The spread of these diseases has been attributed to the absence of comprehensive control measures, which is further compounded by low poverty levels, with the attendant lack of clean water, malnourishment, and poor sanitary conditions. Numerous afflictions of lesser importance also abound. The economies of most African nations have been severely paralyzed by incessant internecine wars, the huge expenditures of which could have been funneled into development programs to curb the poverty level, and thereby enhance the health of the populations.

As a predominant feature of life, African traditional medicine is a healthcare system that has deep roots in indigenous culture. The majority of African population (70% to 80%), especially those in the rural areas, rely principally on medicinal plants for their healthcare needs. These plants are usually found in their vicinity, in distant villages, or oftentimes in the wild forest habitats. The practice of administering herbs may sometimes rely on invoking witchcraft, magic, incantation and other supernatural beliefs. Numerous medicinal plants may thus be associated with superstition and rituals. Many African medicinal plants, however, have good science behind them; some await further investigative elucidation.
Unlike in the West, for most Africans the use of medicinal plants is not an alternative, but rather an essential and primary line of defense against illnesses that have challenged their lives through centuries. With modern medicines being far beyond their reach and alien to their culture, Africans turn to the ubiquitous nature to remedy the various health problems that pester their lives. This article provides a bird's-eye-view of African medicinal plant resources, and also offers a glimpse of trade, conservation, intellectual property rights, and research issues associated with them.

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