Dr Nick Oguge, Country Director of Earthwatch Kenya, says: "The investigation points out that there is a possibility of getting effective compounds from natural sources which can be of value in the fight against tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. The study also provides evidence to support the use of these plants in the management of infectious diseases in the Samburu community and elsewhere."
A survey of how local people use medicinal plants was carried out among community groups in the eastern Samburu District in Northern Kenya between 2008 and 2009. Information gathered with the help of Earthwatch volunteers, included the local names of plants, parts of plants used by the Samburu people for medicinal purposes, and diseases treated. The plants were identified and grouped, and from this initial study, eight species were selected for analysis. The results of the investigation show that most of the plants surveyed contain substances with antibacterial, antifungal and antimycobacterial1 properties.
In Africa, traditional medicine is of great value and the Samburu community of northern Kenya use plants for both food and therapeutic purposes. It is estimated that around 85 per cent of the community use medicinal plants for their primary health care. The Samburu pastoralists are among the few communities in Kenya that have retained immense knowledge of ethnobotany2, although this knowledge is rapidly dwindling due to changes towards a less traditional lifestyle, overgrazing and overexploitation of plant resources.
Results from the study will be disseminated both locally and nationally, and Dr Oguge believes that crude extracts from these medicinal plants could be useful in the development of new antimicrobial drugs, although, he stresses, further work is necessary.
Dr Oguge says: "There is big potential here, especially if we take our research from the field to the labs, and from there to clinical trials - of course in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute."
He adds: "We do have a problem with the communities' harvesting methods that are not sustainable, and we are teaching them about the sustainable harvesting of these plants and encouraging them towards environmental conservation."
Read about the Earthwatch project Samburu Communities and Wildlife.
1 Mycobacterium is a genus of Actinobacteria, given its own family, the Mycobacteriaceae. The genus includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in mammals, including tuberculosis and leprosy.
2 The plant lore and agricultural customs of a people.
A study by scientists from Earthwatch into the value of medicinal plants is showing the plants' potential to help to combat infectious diseases in Kenya.