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 Post subject: A National Programme for Herbal Healthcare Products
 Post Posted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 2:48 am 
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NASTEC monograph on "A National Programme for Herbal Healthcare Products"

Herbal medicine is a form of treatment, which is said to be as old as mankind itself. Now, this most ancient form of medicine is helping to enrich the most sophisticated system in the world's history. According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide herbal medicine is three to four times more commonly practised than conventional medicine. The recent BBC survey found that 1 in 5 people in the UK now regularly use Complimentary and Alternative Medicine and that herbal medicine was the most popular form of treatment.

The value of the European herbal market is about Euro 3.2 billion and herbalists are legally recognised as healthcare practitioners in most countries of Europe. The need to enforce regulatory and statutory legislation with regard to consumer protection has been recognised. Therefore policies and guidelines should be established to ensure the quality of herbal healthcare products, and promote the industry.

In the Sri Lankan context, formulating national policy and strategic framework is emphasised in accordance with guidelines declared by the World Health Organisation.

But we are facing a burden of lagging behind in such a nationally important task due to lack of clarity and coordination of sectorial issues. Sri Lanka needs a national policy on herbal healthcare industry, which focuses on product development and promotion of research. Although we have an old tradition of herbal medicine, it has not expanded in terms of commodification and commercialisation to compete with global trends. In this arena safety and efficacy of herbal medicines is sometimes in question, as well as the quality of the industrial processes, by which they are now produced. The latter too is all too often primitive, and conforms to neither the original norms or that of modern scientific process technological principles.

Considering all these factors National Science and Technology Commission (NASTEC) has taken leadership to enlighten stakeholders of the sector to call for a national forum on herbal healthcare products. Under the guidance of Dr. R. O. B. Wijesekara, former Chairman of NASTEC who have his renowned service to plant-based industrial enterprises, an elaborative document on 'A National Programme for Herbal Health Care Products' was produced. The committee, headed by Dr. Tuley de Silva, former consultant of UNIDO and WHO, has made some splendid proposals to promote the quality of herbal products, produced in Sri Lanka, to attain the levels required in the international arena. This report is a result of the collective deliberation by a group of experts representing several relevant fields. Therefore this valuable document is nurtured on a multidisciplinary approach, and is well-written in terms of a scientific approach to highlight our national obligation.

The report has identified significant thrust areas to be researched and prioritised in a timely manner.

* Economic mapping of autogenic flora
* Selection of plant species and verification
* Incorporation of Ethnomedical and Ethnobotanical data
* Trial propagation for developing high yield varieties
* Medium scale plant propagation
* Phytochemical studies on herbal ingredients
* Quantitative and analytical studies on main ingredients
* Pharmacological and toxicological studies
* Industrial scale pilot preparations of herbal extractions
* Standardisation of herbal extractions
* Formulatory studies on converting herbal extracts into dosage forms
* Toxicological studies on formulae
* Analytical and stability studies on formulary productions
* Clinical assessments

One of the most significant recommendations in this report is to establish a Knowledge Based on herbal medicines and their uses. This is a very important step to be taken in order to drive the industry towards a productive goal, and to coalesce with mainstream industrial interventions. This will support an information network and data system programmed to be accessible to relevant stakeholders involved in the herbal healthcare product sector.

Especially the ayurveda sector will be benefitted through such a knowledge base by crossing over international market constraints and improvement of the quality of products. As the report signifies, this collection of information is composed of the following segments:

* A list of plant species
* Distribution and abundance of medical plants
* Traditional medical uses of medicinal plants
* Ayurvedic formulae based on medical plants
* Methods of plants based manufacturing
* Information on local research conducted on plants
* Institutes involved in medicinal plant research
* Industries based on medicinal plants and herbal products
* Dealers of herbal preparations
* Findings of scientific researchers
* Sectors related to transport and marketing
* Information on existing agronomical and industrial packages
* A document on consultants and consultancy areas
* A catalogue of local publications and bibliography on medicinal plant research
* Information on opportunities of joint ventures
* Agreements on collaborative research
* Financial facilities for research
* Information on loan schemes and incentives for industry.

Conducting research is a must, in spite of existing scientific data to ensure the efficacy and safety of herbal healthcare products. This will help to install a mechanism to screen all the herbal healthcare products, for consumers' protection, from the perspective of public health.

Therefore this report highlights many significant matters related to research extending into various subjects.

* Agro-technology and post harvesting technology
* Chemical studies and specification development
* Process development
* Machinery design
* Formulation technology development
* Process optimisation and development of operating system
* Toxicity studies and efficacy evaluation
* Development of product standards and specifications
* Stability studies, storing and packing requisites
* Marketing research and strategies
* Bioassay and pharmacological studies
* Evaluation of clinical efficacy with ayurvedic and biomedical inputs
* Medicinal development process

Inputs from traditional knowledge are an imperative need to be incorporated in multi-sectoral approaches to research. The UK House of Lords has expressed their view on Complimentary and Alternative medicine in the sixth report of Select Committee on Science and Technology and stressed the necessity of conducting research in order to promote the quality of service. Herbal healthcare products are the main source of treatment provided by such natural systems of medicine as ayurveda. Therefore Sri Lanka must consider having a consolidated plan for promoting herbal healthcare products in a commercial perspective that will definitely help to generate alternative incomes for rural people.

The current situation is ideal for implanting such a national concept, which can grow to be an attractive venture for investors. This report highlights the landmarks of a hidden treasure trove, and calls for a national agenda for bringing together segregated programmes into a productive concerted programme - An integrated National Programme for Action.

- Dr. Danister L. Perera, Consultant (Ayurveda), Sri Lanka Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants Project.

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