Muscat: Oman has been blessed with over 250 reported species of medicinal plants, the Indian Ocean Rim Association's First Meeting and Exhibition on Medicinal Plants was told on Monday.
The event was opened on Monday by the Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Centre (OAPGRC), in partnership with the Dhofar University and the Indian Ocean Rim Association's Regional Centre for Science and Technology Transfer (IORA-RCSTT), in Salalah under the patronage of Sheikh Salim bin Mustahail Al Mashani, adviser at the Diwan of Royal Court.
Attracting more than 50 high-profile scientists and researchers from nine countries, Dr Nadiya Al Saady, OAPGRC's executive director said in her opening speech at Dhofar University: "Medicinal plants play an important role in today's healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. And Oman has been blessed with over 250 reported species of medicinal plants that could be decisive in treating some of the world's current and future diseases."
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately five billion people rely on traditional medicines for primary healthcare and about 85 per cent of traditional medicine involves the use of plant extracts. But the use of medicinal plants is by no means restricted to developing countries.
Twenty-five per cent of prescription drugs in the US contain plant extracts or active principles prepared from higher plants and in Japan herbal medicinal preparations are in greater demand than mainstream pharmaceutical products.
Of the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the WHO, 11 per cent are exclusively of plant origin and a significant number are synthetic drugs obtained from natural precursors.
In his comments made on the sidelines of the meeting, Professor Aril Kumar Tripathi, director of India's Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, and Sirinan Thubthimthed, Senior Researcher at Thailand's Institute of Technological Research agreed that "the Salalah event is important in that it gives IORA member states an opportunity to meet, exchange knowledge and ideas on medicinal plants and work to enhance future collaboration".
Interest in medicinal plants and their potential to yield useful drugs has seen a significant increase over the past few years.
"With the increase in global consumer demand for 'natural' products, I fully expect this trend to continue. In fact, the large and rapidly growing international market for medicinal plants presents an interesting opportunity to promote sub-sector development and rural economic growth in Oman," suggested Dr Al Saady.
Research by the International Council for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants shows that medicinal plants constitute a $60 billion industry globally with the bulk of demand coming from Germany, Japan, France and the US. The International Council for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants estimates that global demand is growing at eight to 10 per cent annually.
"This positive economic data offers countries like Oman that have a treasure of medicinal plant resources, significant commercial opportunities. Omani farmers, entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical companies could all gain from our reserves of indigenous medicinal plants," suggests the OAPGRC executive director.
"However," warns Dr Al Saady, "hundreds of medicinal plants are at risk of extinction from over-collection and deforestation. Hoodia, originally from Namibia, is attracting interest from pharmaceutical companies researching weight loss drugs, but is on the verge of extinction and the Autumn Crocus, which is a natural treatment for gout and is being linked to helping fight leukaemia, is also at risk."