Plants have formed the basis of sophisticated traditional medicines that have existed for thousands of years and continue to provide Mankind with remedies. According to the WHO, over 80% of the world's population still depends on traditional medicine for their primary health care. The interest in Nature continues not only as a potential source of herbal medicines, which is finding increasing acceptance in the developed world, but also as chemotherapeutic agents. It is a fact that natural products and their derivatives represent more than 50% of all drugs in clinical use in the world.
Whilst modern allopathic medicine usually aims to develop a patentable single compound or a "magic bullet" to treat specific condition, traditional medicine often aims to restore balance by using chemically complex plants, or by mixing together several different plants in order to maximise a synergistic effect or to improve the likelihood with a relevant molecular target. In most societies and increasingly in western societies, allopathic and traditional systems of medicine occur side by side in a complementary way. The former treats serious acute conditions while the latter is used for chronic illnesses, to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life in a cost-effective way.
The African continent is blessed with a unique biodiversity accounting for almost 25% of the global pool of genetic resources. Paradoxically, this continent is experiencing the highest rate of destruction. The conservation of plant genetic resources, the documentation and validation of the traditional knowledge are key issues that will need to be addressed. The industrial potential of these plants is to be demonstrated especially as medicinal plants have not only the potential of addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MdGs) but also provide to Mankind cheap and efficacious remedies.
In Mauritius, the publications on medicinal plants dated back to 1888 with the work of Doctors Daruty and Bouton. My work has been initially focused on producing a database on all the medicinal and aromatic plants of Mauritius but also for the Indian Ocean region. After documentation, the research work has been focused on the validation of the traditional data with a view of developing cheaper alternative to standard allopathic medicine. The joint publication of the African Pharmacopeia will impact African farmers willing to export their products in international market as they will fulfill the needs of industry. As for many African farm products, women are the prime agriculturalists and this project is likely to have a direct impact on livelihoods. At the local level, many small "Women Association" have started using my publications to set up small business and the Government of Mauritius has funded a business plan for this project. This presentation will show case this work.