WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants

Dhawan, B N

WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants, vol. 2 (World Health Organization, Geneva) 2002. 357 pages. Price: Sw.fr.100.00/US $ 90.00; in developing countries : Sw.fr.70.00 ISBN 92-4-154537-2

Plant products continue to be the mainstay of health care in developing countries. These are also being increasingly used as complementary/alternative medicine in industrialized countries. Most of these products have been used in local traditional systems of medicine for centuries and hence are believed to be safe and effective. New data employing modern investigative procedures have been generated on several of these products. The results are usually published in local journals, are widely scattered and not easily accessible. The regulatory requirements for drugs also vary widely in different countries, and are almost non-existent for traditional remedies in most developing countries.

Repeated concerns have been raised in recent years about the urgent need to have internationally accepted norms of quality control of the more extensively used traditional remedies. The data on their efficacy, safety, indications, contraindications etc., also require cataloguing and evaluation to validate their continued use as prescription drugs. The World Health Organization (WHO) constituted an advisory group for this purpose and a meeting was held at Beijing in 1994 during a Congress on Ethnopharmacology. WHO had collected data on approximate annual global sale and countries of use for large number of medicinal plants. The objective of the meeting was to identify medicinal plants having extensive global use in a variety of health care settings. The available data on selected plants could then be collected, reviewed and published. About 100 plants were tentatively selected for preparation of monographs. Consideration was also given to availability of adequate data while selecting the plants. It was further decided that each volume might contain about 30 monographs. The general format of the monographs was also suggested in the meeting.

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Remedies located at the University of Illinois, Chicago in USA was selected to prepare the initial draft monograph for each product. The Centre also houses the Natural Products Alert (NAPRALERT) database, perhaps the largest database on natural products. The draft documents prepared by this Center were sent to several scientists in various countries for review. The documents were revised in the light of comments. The revised monographs were reviewed and approved at a WHO organized consultation meeting. The monographs thus not only received inputs from a large group of experts from over 50 countries but have also undergone a rigorous peer review.

The first volume of monographs containing data on 28 materials from 25 plants was published in 1999 and was well received. The present volume contains monographs on 30 materials from 28 plants.

The general arrangement of data in the present volume follows the format of the first volume with minor alterations. The plants selected for this volume are based on a rational approach maintaining the global perspective. Important details were missing for some plants in the first volume in spite of repeated review of the data. The monographs in the present volume have undergone a more thorough review and such discrepancies have not been found.

The initial part of each monograph provides data on the synonyms, select list of vernacular names, geographical distribution and a brief description of the plant and the parts used. Organoleptic and microscopic description and tests for general identity and purity follow next. The chemistry portion lists the identified chemical constituents. The chemical structure and assays for the more important constitutions have been described. The major part of each monograph is justifiably devoted to medicinal uses of the product (divided into those supported by experimental/clinical data and unsubstantiated claims). This is followed by the contraindications, adverse reactions and precautions. The description ends with the available dosage forms and doses. All statements have been properly documented and complete references given at the end of each chapter. The reviews also indicate gaps in knowledge by stating that data are not available. This indicates areas where further research should be undertaken.

The present volume provides a valuable collection of data on the selected plants. The format developed by the WHO should be found useful by other national or regional agencies for compiling data on medicinal plants with a more restricted use or for the preparation of national pharmacoepias. The volume should be of help in rationalizing the use of these products in health care. It will be a valuable reference book for practitioners of modern and traditional systems of medicine, pharmaceutical industry and health service providers besides a wide cross section of biomedical scientists.

The book is very well produced and is remarkably free from printers’ devils. The references are current and the number of pre-1960 references is very limited. The more important earlier references, however, have been included.

WHO needs to be complemented for bringing out this valuable and timely series of publication. The utility of future volumes will be enhanced if some additional information can be incorporated in the monographs. It will be extremely useful to include colour photographs of the plants and the parts used. A microphotograph of the plant part and/or powdered plant material will help investigators in correct identification. The book has two indices. An additional index listing the vernacular names will be valuable. In the text, the vernacular names should preferably be arranged country-wise. Finally, wherever available, data on substitutes and adulterants should be provided along with the botanical data. The inner back cover provides useful list of related WHO publications.

Dr B.N. Dhawan 3, Rama Krishna Marg Lucknow 226007

Copyright Indian Council of Medical Research Aug 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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