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Wanton deforestation threatens anti malaria tree species in Kenya

Updated Tuesday, March 26th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Alice Muriranja

Increased deforestation and over exploitation of trees species that have anti-malarial qualities has put them at risk of extinction.

Scientists are now warning that their potential to treat malaria could be lost forever, even as malaria continues to be among the leading killers in the country. In Kenya, more than half of the population at risk of infection and over 34,000 children dying annually due to lack of doctors or drugs.

Medicinal species

In a research released by Kenya Medical Research Institute’s (Kemri) Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research, 22 trees species and shrubs were identified by traditional medicinal practitioners and scientists as having the potential for further study.

While not all species of anti-malarial trees are at risk, wanton deforestation of most species was putting efforts at making a breakthrough in malaria treatment even harder.

Without clear research or proper guidance for their sustainable use, many of the plants with medicinal properties are being over-exploited and are in danger of extinction.

One such plant is Zanthoxylum chalybeum, commonly known as “Knobwood.” It grows in dry woodlands or grasslands of eastern and southern Africa and has been found to have anti-malarial properties that need to be further explored.

An extraction process from leaves, bark or root is used to effectively treat malarial fever in many communities. Other uses for the plant include infusing tea with the leaves, making toothbrushes, and using the seeds as beads in traditional garments.

The African wild olive, Olea europaea Africana, also threatened in East Africa due to over-exploited for timber, contains organic extracts with significant levels of anti-malarial activity. It is used to treat malarial and other fevers.

Treatment of worms

The plant also acts as a natural laxative to expel parasites or tapeworms. With new research revealing that trees and shrubs in East Africa that have promising anti-malarial qualities are at risk of extinction, scientists are warning that

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