Climate change is impacting biodiversity and threatening the development of traditional medicine, Dr. Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance has said. He was addressing a sitting of committees of the Pan-African Parliament at the precinct of the African Union’s lawmaking organ in Midrand South Africa that ran from the 6th to the 17th of March 2023. He said climate change can have a complex impact that also influences human and animal health altering the conditions for pathogens and vectors of zoonotic diseases and eliciting new challenges for maintaining human and animal health. Dr. Mwenda alluded to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s goal in medicines: “to help save lives and improve health by ensuring the quality, efficacy, safety and rational use of medicines, including traditional medicines, and by promoting equitable and sustainable access to essential medicines, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged”. The climate change expert said climate change can lead to zoonotic diseases. Zoonoses refer to the transmission of diseases/infections from animals to humans. Statistics indicate that six out of ten infectious diseases arise from the animal-to-human transmission with global prevalence in urban or rural areas. Zoonotic diseases have increased in recent years with the rise in global temperatures curating favorable conditions for breeding specific vectors, especially in poorly developed countries. Increased precipitation and parallel flooding conditions provide the perfect breeding grounds for vectors amplifying the possibility of waterborne disease transmission. Climate change can also influence the geographical distribution of insect-spread diseases where Zoonotic viruses previously localized to areas with high temperatures, such as the tropics, have been observed worldwide. “Biodiversity plays a key role in health. While at it, Traditional Medicine (TM) plays a crucial role in health care for a large part of the population living in developing countries which for centuries was the only health care system available for the prevention and treatment of diseases in different cultures. “The interdependence between the sustainability of the environment and the human species needs full recognition and the development of new public health practices. The goal is to increasingly translate into policies and actions with the recognition that the sustainable use of finite natural resources is a major determinant of health. Ingredients sourced from wild plants and animals are not only widely used in traditional medicines but are also increasingly valued as raw materials in the preparation of modern medicines and herbal preparations,” Dr. Mwenda said. He added that the commoditization of plant medicine and animal parts has seen a marked increase in the sale of herbal remedies, precipitating large-scale harvesting of medicinal plants, factory-like production of herbal drugs, and animal poaching in many parts of developing countries. Despite international regulations and several national laws against poaching and heavy penalties for culprits, the extremely high prices offered for the parts of some species serve as strong incentives for illegal trade in animal parts to flourish. Many medicinal plant species have spread globally both via intentional and carefully planned transfers and as the unintentional outcome of people’s movements. Traditional drugs and traditional medicine in general represent a still poorly explored field of research in terms of therapeutic potential or clinical evaluation. Biodiversity plays an integral role in recovery from illness and significantly contributes to preventing disease since well-functioning ecosystems protect human health. The poor and vulnerable suffer most from scarce or polluted water and air, and from diseases associated with disrupted ecosystems. Ecosystems also play a substantial role in controlling the emergence and spread of infectious diseases by maintaining equilibria among predators and prey, and among hosts, vectors, and parasites in plants, animals, and humans. ￼ “Biodiversity loss diminishes the supply of raw materials for drug discovery and biotechnology. It also causes a loss of medical models; affects the spread of human diseases; and threatens food production and water quality. Its reduction has direct effects on the discovery of potential medicines. A clue from nature can lead to the discovery of a new class of drugs that would have been extremely difficult to discover in the laboratory,” Dr. Mwenda said. Wild populations of numerous species are overexploited around the globe, the demand created by traditional medicine being one of the causes of the overexploitation. Significant changes in forests, savannas, and other vegetational types have impacted the procurement and preparation, as well as the cost of plant medicine.
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