Medicinal Plants: Oman’s Natural Advantage
The Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Center (OAPGRC) in partnership with Dhofar University and the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s Regional Centre for Science and Technology Transfer (IORA-RCSTT) and under the patronage of HE Sheikh Salim bin Mustahail Al Mashani, Adviser at the Diwan of Royal Court, will host the first meeting of the Medicinal Plant Focal Group at the First Meeting of Medicinal Plants Focal Points of IORA-RCSTT and exhibition on medicinal plants, 23 – 25 June in Salalah.
“Medicinal plants have been used since ancient times to heal and cure diseases and improve health and wellbeing,” commented OAPGRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Nadiya Al Saady.The oldest written evidence of their usage was found on a 5,000 year-old Sumerian clay slab in Nagpur, India. The slab contained 12 recipes for drug preparation and referred to over 250 plants.
Indeed, up until the 18th century, the professions of doctor and botanist were closely linked and the first modern botanic gardens, founded in 16th century Italy, were medicinal plant gardens attached to medical faculties.
Today, medicinal plants continue to play a critical role in healthcare provision. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 10,000 plant species are used for medicinal purposes, mainly as traditional medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that 80% of people in developing countries rely on traditional medicines, which are mostly of plant origin, for primary healthcare. But the use of medicinal plants is by no means restricted to developing countries; 25% of prescription drugs in the US contain plant extracts or active principles prepared from higher plants.
“Over the past few years we have seen a dramatic resurgence in interest in medicinal plants for their potential to yield useful drugs. And with the increase in global consumer demand for products labeled as ‘natural’, this trend is fully expected to continue. This offers countries like Oman that have a treasure of medicinal plant resources, significant commercial opportunities. Omani farmers, entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical companies could all gain from our reserves of indigenous medicinal plants if used sustainably and creatively,” remarked Dr. Al Saady.
Historically, plants were a vital source of raw material for medicines. Later, techniques were developed to produce synthetic replacements for many of the medicines that had been derived from the forest. “But recently, problems with drug resistant microorganisms, side effects of modern drugs and emerging diseases where no medicines are available, have reignited interest in plants as a source of new medicines,” said the OAPGRC Executive Director who went on to explain that despite the increased demand for medicinal plants, source countries possessing rich biodiversity of medicinal plants can struggle to reap the rewards from these natural resources. “It is in this light that the conference and exhibition have been designed. We are looking to extend medicinal plant co-operation among the lORA member states.”
Dr. Al Saady went on to say: “The Salalah conference will examine a host of important issues, particularly exciting is how to meet the demand for medicinal species sustainably. We need to ensure that wild medicinal plant populations do not come under threat. More effective co-operation among the institutions concerned with the use and trade of medicinal plants, including those from the healthcare, conservation and commercial sectors, is required to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and continued availability of medicinal resources. We need to make sure we protect the natural wealth we have been blessed with and that future generations can also reap its benefits.”