MEDICINAL  USE  OF  PLANT  BIODIVERSITY
 

MANNILA, FEBRUARY  1, 2007
  (MALAYA) by ANGEL ALCALA - 'This country spends more money in conducting political campaigns than in research and development of medicinal drugs from our plant biodiversity that all of us brag to be one of the highest in the world.

One of the well known uses of our biodiversity is as source of chemicals that are useful to combat human diseases and unwanted effects of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections. Our forefathers used our biodiversity to cure their ailments. The pharmaceutical industry has taken advantage of commercializing these chemicals from plants and animals after a lengthy process of isolating, synthesizing and clinically testing their curative effects on animals and human beings.

The medicines one buys from a drugstore, either prescriptive or over-the-counter drugs, have undergone a rigorous testing for their effectiveness against specific disorders. Because of the high cost of research and development and controlled clinical testing to ensure that they are safe for human use, many of these medicines are so costly that many Filipinos cannot afford to pay for them. But everyone agrees people need medicines to maintain good health. This present situation for the majority of Filipinos leaves much to be desired as physical wellness is one important indicator of a good quality of life.

One of the agencies of government that address this issue is the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC), an office under the Department of Health. One of its programs is the production of low cost medicines derived from Philippine plants. Two examples of these plants are lagundi and ampalaya, shown to be effective against cough and diabetes, respectively, and are now widely used in the country. Some 10 more species of plants are in the list for research and development for 2007 involving research scientists committed to identifying and screening of more plant species that yield pharmaceutical chemicals. The budget for this project is regrettably very low in proportion to its importance to the country. This country spends more money in conducting political campaigns than in research and development of medicinal drugs from our plant biodiversity that all of us brag to be one of the highest in the world.

Thus far only few plant species have been commercialized. In order to increase this number, more research and development on a variety of plant species as well as clinical trials of pharmaceutical products are needed.

How many of the several thousand species of flowering plants in our tropical rainforests produce useful chemicals that could improve our health and maintain healthful lives? This question will never be answered as long as we are stingy in supporting research and development in the pharmaceutical sciences. There is an urgent need to review our development priorities especially if we are to attain the millennium goals.

The Philippine government should invest in medicinal plant research and development. Such investment will encourage more of our students to go into academic studies leading to production of medicines that are affordable to the great majority of our people. Employment opportunities will be created. Academic institutions will have a reason to improve their teaching and research facilities. Knowledge about our plant biodiversity will increase, and biodiversity conservation will be promoted.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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