According to the World Health Organization, malaria claims about three hundred thousand lives annually in Nigeria. The total number of COVID19-related death in the country stands at just a little above a thousand in a period of six months while the number of deaths recorded due to HIV is about two hundred and fifteen thousand annually. While a large percentage of those infected with the protozoan recovers, the fact still remains that malaria is a major killer in the country even with all the research and advancement in drugs.
The problem is not just about inadequate health facilities in the country, Plasmodium malariae, the causative organism of malaria, keeps evolving. In order to change the status quo and stay ahead of the game, malaria drugs also need to either evolve along or ahead of the protozoan. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Hence, those that are malaria-prone in the country - those with blood genotype AA - have resorted to different alternate treatments - herbal treatments.
Nigeria and other tropical countries are blessed with a wide array of plant and animal diversity. Little wonder that the tropical zone is labeled as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Consequently, malaria-prone people have enough resources at their disposal to explore in order to get alternate treatment for their recurring malaria. In actual fact, many people prefer herbal alternatives to treating malaria than any other drug due to the resistance of the malaria parasite to some of the available drugs in the market.
Bearing in mind that the recommended drugs for the treatment of malaria usually come in the form of combined therapy as single therapy-based drugs are now more or less for prophylactic instead of treatment purposes, I have often wondered what will become of it if plant extracts are combined in the treatment of malaria. Of course, it is not like people are not already doing that locally with anecdotal evidence pointing at their effectiveness, but are there scientifically proven evidence to back this up?
It is no longer news that there are several scientific reports concerning the antimalaria effects of a wide variety of different plant extracts. However, due to the continuous evolution of the malaria parasite, a time might come when all the plants with antimalaria properties will no longer be effective in the treatment of malaria. Combining extracts from two or more plants in imitation of the combined therapy antimalaria drug might be the way forward.
One of the evidence that points to the effectiveness of combining plant extracts in the treatment of malaria was reported by researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. They assessed some locally utilized antimalarial plants for their effectiveness and safety in the treatment of malaria both singly and in combination. They found out that some combination of extracts showed more effectiveness than when the plant's extracts were used singly with very little or no toxicity. The extracts actually proved to be effective in multi-drug resistant Plasmodium falciparum.
Okpok et al. in 2014 investigated the effects of combining the ethanolic extracts of the leaf of Ficus exasperata and stem bark of Anthocleista vogelii on malarial treatment in mice subjects. They concluded that the plants can be exploited in the synthesis of new malaria drugs because their combination was found to be up to 91% effective against Plasmodium berghei, another malaria-causing species of plasmodium, even though some level of toxicity were recorded.
Going by the two evidence above (of course, there are more), it can be concluded that combining 2 or even more extracts of plants with antimalarial properties will come in handy in the nearest future as the evolution of the malarial parasites continues and they become resistant to conventional drugs. However, care must be taken to ensure that the harm (in terms of toxicity) does not outweigh the benefits derived from using such combinations.
The next time I see my neighbour combining aqueous extract of Vernonia amgdalina and Momordica charantea for the treatment of her malaria, I will warn her about the possible effects of consuming the crude extracts. Plant extracts are indeed effective in the treatment of certain ailments but they need to be refined to reduce the toxicity level so as to avoid liver or kidney problems.
Than you for reading.
- Malaria fact sheets
- WHy medicinal plants could play a role in malaria treatment
- The in vitro anti-plasmodial and in vivo anti-malarial efficacy of combinations of some medicinal plants used traditionally for treatment of malaria by the Meru community in Kenya
- Okpok Eta Okon, Lebari B. Gboeloh and Samuel Effiong Udoh, 2014. Antimalarial Effect of Combined Extracts of the Leaf of Ficus exasperata and Stem Bark of Anthocleista vogelii on Mice Experimentally Infected with Plasmodium berghei Berghei (Nk 65). Research Journal of Medicinal Plants, 8: 99-111.