July 31, 2012
Herbal Remedies Found To Be Cost Effective
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Coughs and sore throats, sickness can be a hassle to deal with. While some people go straight to the pharmacy, others look to their garden or the forest to procure natural ingredients. A Harvard researcher focused on studying natural medicines revealed the economic benefits patients had from using the traditional medicines.
Investigator Christopher Golden discovered that patients in northwest Madagascar receive $5 to $8 in economics benefits from utilizing herbal remedies. These benefits can accumulate to $30 to $45 per household or approximately 43 to 63 percent of the average annual incomes for families who reside in that area. The findings are featured in the current edition of PLoS One.
"We documented people using more than 240 different plant species to treat as many as 82 different illnesses," explained Golden, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment, in a prepared statement. "This data suggests that it can have quite an impact, financially."
The researcher believes that these savings from natural medicines can possibly be found in other regions where access to pharmaceuticals is limited. Golden also compared the price of the natural remedies to the prices of equivalent pharmaceuticals that consumers in the U.S. might have purchased. He found that, if people in the U.S. purchased the natural remedies instead of the pharmaceuticals, they could save from 22 to 63 percent of how much they spend on annual health care.
"If Americans were relying on traditional medicines as much as people in Madagascar, it could save them a major percentage of their health care expenditures," Golden remarked in the statement.
In particular, Golden emphasized that his study compared the prices of the natural remedies to the pharmaceuticals as opposed to the effectiveness of the two. In the project, Golden surveyed 1,200 households around Maroantsetra, a city in the northeast part of Madagascar, to understand what natural remedies were used. He then asked the people if they tended to use natural or pharmaceutical remedies for a specific illness.
"What we're trying to do is account for the economic value the local floral bio-diversity provides to people in this area of Madagascar," noted Golden in the statement. "We're not assuming there is a medical equivalency — this study is about the perceived efficacy. The people who live in this region often have taken both pharmaceuticals and traditional medicines many times, but there is a perceived efficacy for these traditional medicines."
Based on his results, Golden believes that there´s the possibility that an innovative pharmaceutical remedy might be developed from the floral biodiversity and natural remedies of Maroantsetra; the drug could possibly bring in revenues from $300 million to $5.7 billion.
"That raises additional issues, about who benefits from the discovery of these drugs," remarked Golden in the statement. "In the case of the Madagascar Periwinkle, which was used to develop the treatment for childhood leukemia, a foreign drug company came, took the plants to a foreign lab and they are now making billions, but not five cents has made its way back to Madagascar."
Golden concludes that many of the people in Madagascar continue to utilize traditional remedies because they are effective.
"I have been living here long enough that I've used some of these remedies myself," commented Golden in the statement. "In one case, some scratches on my leg got infected, and it blew up like a watermelon from my knee to my ankle. My host family went into the forest and came back with what looked like nettles and put them on my leg. It was incredibly itchy, but the swelling went away completely and the pain disappeared. So these treatments really can work."