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The valuable medicinal properties contained in certain plants are not, however, in doubt. In recent years, for example, the Chinese plant Artemisia annua, has become the essential ingredient in a new generation of anti-malaria drugs. The plant is now being grown in East African countries to supply pharmaceutical manufacturers in Europe. The bark of the tree Prunus africana is used in making treatments for prostate cancer. Sutherlandia, a native plant of South Africa, is being increasingly recognised for its value to HIV/AIDS sufferers. Other African plants, such as Devil’s Claw and African Geranium, are also gaining popularity as herbal medicines, particularly in Europe.

Medicinal plants therefore represent an important opportunity to rural communities in Africa, as a source of affordable medicine and as a source of income. Governments too need to be thinking about how to promote the benefits that medicinal plants have to offer, which may involve integrating herbal medicine into conventional healthcare systems. This raises important issues, such as regulation of traditional healers and ensuring certain standards are met.