Friday, 27 February 2009

Is traditional medicine viable in a globalising world?

London, United Kingdom

How can we sustain traditional medicine, which is said to be the treatment of choice of more than 80% of the world’ population? As we are discovering in our work on herbal remedies in Morocco, the challenges are multiple. With growing demand driven by urban and international markets, the viability of wild plant resources is threatened. This can lead to substitution of scarcer species with more available ones, with unknown health consequences. The transmission of knowledge about medicinal plants is being disrupted as well, potentially affecting the competence of younger healers. For these reasons, medical professionals call into question the safety and efficacy of traditional medicine. These issues were on my mind today when I met with Michael Heinrich, Professor and Head of the Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy at the University of London’ School of Pharmacy. We met in 1981, when I was on my way to Berkeley to begin my doctorate in Anthropology, and he was completing a masters degree in Anthropology in my home state of Michigan. Now nearly thirty years later, we hope to collaborate on some aspect of traditional medicine in Morocco, perhaps the safety of herbal medicines given to children.

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