Deforestation, Pollution Drive Zim’s Medicinal Herbs Into Near Extinction

EXTRACTION of medicines from the natural vegetation for both traditional and scientific medical purposes is under threat owing to uncontrolled deforestation and environmental pollution by industries, a top traditional healer has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking in an interview with HealthTimes, Mr Friday Chishanyu, the president for the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association (ZINPA), an organisation which represents traditional healers including herbalists said unlike in the old days, they now have to travel long distances in search of herbs owing to deforestation and the effects of climate change.

We now have to travel very long distances just to search for medicinal herbs. There has been massive deforestation and the biodiversity has been depleted heavily. As traditional healers, we are making a call to preserve our country’s Biodiversity and natural resources to assure sustainability of herbal and scientific medicines since there are all extracted from trees which is our natural resources.

“Both traditional medical practitioners and modern medicine practitioners get their medicines from the biodiversity which is now affected by the population growth which is demanding a lot of accommodation and that means a lot of land is cleared to create space for people, “said Mr Chishanyu.

By the year 2015, deforestation had gutted down 37 percent of Zimbabwe’s forested land between the period 1990 and 2015, leaving 87,000 hectares (about 215,000 acres), according to a 2015 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization.

He added that industrial pollution was also contributing to the extinction of natural herbs and biodiversity.

“Industrial growth is also of major concern. You know our industry is growing everyday and at the same time it causes  air pollution even to some of medicines which are found close to industries. Industries are also disposing chemicals directly into the environment, hence killing herbs and trees in the process.”

He added that other countries like India have designated vast portions of land to the growing of medicinal herbs to assure the availability of herbal medicines.

“They have also built laboratories for the manufacturing and testing of traditional medicines so as to gather scientific evidence to ensure there is harmony between the use of traditional and modern scientific  medicines.

“If this is done in Zimbabwe, this will reduce the quantity of both herbal and modern medicines the country imports every year from outside the country. If we capacitate herbal medicines practitioners, we stand a chance to reduce the medicines import bill for Zimbabwe.”

He however bemoaned the lack knowledge to research and gather scientific  backed evidence for traditional medicines. He also said it was very expensive for a traditional healer or herbalist to take medicines to a government laboratory for testing.

Meanwhile, as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and medical expert across the world continue to rely on biodiversity for herbs and scientific medicines. The COVID-19 disease has killed 244 000 people and infected 3.43 million across the globe.

Madagascar has launched a Covid-Organics tonic which is believed to a be a cure for the COVID-19. The herbal concoction is produced from the artemisia plant - the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment - and other Malagasy plants.

Even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no proof that the Madagascar tonic cure’s Covid-19, the country’s President, Mr Andry Rajoelina’s said tests have been carried out and two people had already been cured by this treatment.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that 80 percent of the global population relies on traditional medicines for treatment. They went on to say 80 percent of the Zimbabwe’s population also rely on traditional medicines and medical herbs.

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