Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Jan 23, 2003
Industry & Economy
`Herbal treatment must supplement primary care'
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Jan. 22
GOVERNMENTS should take immediate steps to introduce traditional medicine as a supplement to primary health care, especially since herbal medicine is the first level of contact for rural people in the hour of emergency, according to Dr S. Vedavathy, President of the Herbal Folklore Research Centre in Tirupati.
Primary health care usually requires comparatively milder medication and the acceptability of herbal medicine for such eventualities are well documented, she added.
The knowledge about certain herbs, animals and minerals that have curative and palliative effects have come to be transmitted from one generation to another and are generally the outcome of bold experimentation through trial and error method over hundreds of years.
Thus, traditional herbalists have become part and parcel of the community and are often familiar with the details of each family and its environs.
The main considerations for establishing the link between ethnomedicine and primary health care should be availability of the resource base, proven lack of toxicity and ease of formulation.
"The Governments should provide the right environment for people to take responsibility for their own health. Health education should be imparted along these lines, especially on use of indigenous herbal remedies."
Primary health care centres (PHCs) should educate the public on the methods of identifying various medicinal plants and their usage for the treatment of common diseases.
"There is a real need to explore the medicinal properties of readily available plants and extracts of animal and mineral substances used in traditional medicine through careful observation and validation for purposes of application."
The demand for medicinal and aromatic plants have grown several times over in the last decade in the wake of a groundswell of interest in natural products and traditional health systems worldwide.
India's exports of medicinal plants have more than trebled during the period.
The result is that hundreds of species are now threatened with extinction on account of over-harvesting, destructive collection techniques and conversion of habitats to crop-based agriculture.
In order to keep up with the demand, protective measures should be initiated for saving the precious resource base through development of appropriate institutions and legislation, she said.
Cultivation of adoptable species and over exploitation of endangered and rare species must be avoided.
For the preservation of medicinal plants for primary health care, establishment of community and kitchen gardens are necessary.
Only these can ensure sustainable supply of safe, effective and affordable medicinal herbs, according to Dr Vedavathy.
Besides, laboratories should be set up for the assessment of the efficacy of the medicinal herbs.
Such an initiative will enable the developing countries to look inward to their own resource base and identify cost-effective methods of medical treatment rather than count on expensive and imported medicine and be afflicted with side effects in the bargain.
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