The lab that goes to the root of the problem

The «preferential treatment» afforded to the southern countries can take other forms. In Burkina Faso, Jardins du Monde is trying to bring together the traditional practitioners in the health centres to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, and to encourage the growth of medicinal plants in nearby gardens. In relation to certain plants, the work of the universities and NGOs is a veritable race against time. «Barely 6 to 10 % of plants described in scientific literature are examined from a chemical and/or pharmacological point of view» explains Olivia Jansen, PHD student at the pharmacognosy department. She goes on to say, «As it happens, several species are in danger of disappearing. We know that one in five plant species will disappear over the next thirty years». Sometimes, for example, in a dry, savannah-type environment, where it is the root part of the plant that is effective against the parasite, it is necessary to put in place a plan to grow the plants in question, if we want to ensure the survival of this valuable resource.

Other types of "benefits" for southern countries are already under way, or are planned, in collaboration with the Universities and the local socio-medical services. Jardins du Monde organises health training in this way. The role of women is encouraged in the treatment of the most common diseases by local medicinal plants, awareness of basic hygiene practices, and making the most of plant foods rich in essential nutrients, etc.

Fagara rootIn Rwanda, the objective of the University of Liège is to eventually set up a light laboratory of pharmaceutical analysis, with the help of the Belgian development cooperation. Such an infrastructure could carry out extremely useful missions, totally independent from the commercial interests of pharmaceutical multi-nationals. This could involve the improvement of traditional local medicines (in the form of capsules, ointments, syrups etc.), but also the precise analysis of traditional medicines, or even the identification of falsified medicines, which, as is the case in Europe, are flooding into the African continent.

The pharmacognosy unit of the University of Liège has been internationally recognised for more than thirty years. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that it attracts researchers from all areas of the globe including, the Congo, Rwanda, Guinea, Burkina Faso, the Republic of Benin, Mauritius, Brazil, Colombia, Georgia, Ousbekistan, and Canada, in the context of University programmes financed by the University Cooperation to Development (CUD), the FNRS, the AUF (the Association of Francophone Universities), and European funding. In 2008, seven foreign researchers were working there, as well as six researchers from Liège who were also involved in the work.

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