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7. Fig (Ficus caricas)

Fig tree (3) square.jpgBoth changing land use and climate change can have significant impacts on plant-derived alternatives to pharmaceutical antimicrobials that we might think of growing. They can also have effects on people who rely on plant-based medicines for their health care.

In low- and middle- income countries, up to 80% of people turn to plant-based medicines. But there’s also a growing trend in high-income countries toward using plant-based medicines like essential oils, root and seed extracts, etc., as alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs.

So far, we’ve talked about this as a good thing in relation to antimicrobial innovation and treatment alternatives. But a side-effect of this trend is changing availability of herbal medicines and changes in land use in many low- and middle- income countries.

Local populations can be priced out, unable to afford herbal medicines where it becomes more profitable to export crops or wild harvests to wealthier buyers in high-income countries. With limited access to medicines in some more rural areas in some countries, this can have a big impact on health care access.

Alternatively, increasing demand can mean that wild-harvested plants with antimicrobial properties can be pushed to the point of extinction. With the climate already changing, the Earth may be losing at least one potential major plant-based medicine every 2 years.

It’s crucial that we think about conservation and sustainable use of plants for medicines.

Magnifying Glass smallHow do you think the benefits of plant-based medicines should be shared with communities?

In an age of global health, lots of the resources, data, and labour that’s needed to research and make new medicines is gathered from communities in low- and middle- income countries.

Especially where researchers from high-income countries work with partners elsewhere, it’s important that the benefits of research are shared with the local communities who have designed, contributed to or participated in research.

We call this benefit-sharing. It's an ethical must-do to make sure that people get benefits - whether that’s early access to a treatment, or money, or support for local health care - in fair exchange for their labour, participation in trials, design of research, or use of their land to cultivate plants that will be consumed mostly by people in high-income countries.