Paper Examines Use of Compound Derived from Medicinal Plants for Malaria Prevention

Patrick Ogwang, a RISE fellow, is the lead author of a paper on the use artemisinin in malaria prevention published in the current issue of the British Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Artemisinin’s  starting compound is isolated from the plant Artemisia annua, a herb described in traditional Chinese herbal medication.

Ogwang, who is associated with RISE’s AFNNET program, is working toward his Ph.D. at Makerere University in Uganda.

RISE, a program of the Institute for Advanced Study funded by Carnegie Corporation,  prepares PhD and MSc-level scientists and engineers in sub-Saharan Africa through university-based research and training networks in selected disciplines. Its primary emphases are on training new faculty to teach in African universities and on upgrading the qualifications of current faculty.

The RISE-AFNNET program seeks to develop Africa’s rich biodiversity into a natural products industry of social and economic significance. The program’s work is carried out in the face of rapid population growth, loss of agricultural lands, and insufficient human capacity.

RISE-AFNNET is building on an already active research network of 10 member countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and is expanding existing research programs and formalizing educational activities in such natural products fields as engineering, biochemistry, environmental science, pharmacology, economic development, and nutrition. Students are now recruited to identify and work on natural products research projects in the context of poverty alleviation, gender equity, and Millennium Development Goals.

Ogwang’s paper addresses a major public health problem in Uganda, where malaria is endemic and contributes up to 40% of hospital outpatient attendances. Approaches to controlling the disease include; environmental, entomological and medicinal interventions. Some communities use medicinal plants to control the disease. In Ogwang’s paper the authors report the use of Artemisia annua L. for malaria prophylaxis at a Ugandan floricultural farm. They conducted a survey of the farm workers to determine extent of use of A. annua ‘tea’, their clinic attendance patterns and also quantified the levels of artemisinin and flavonoids in A. annua. They further tested the effect of artemisinin devoid extract in laboratory animal models. Findings from the survey showed that 84.2% of the managers and 62% of field workers in this farm consumed A. annua ‘tea’ once a week to prevent malaria and related fevers. Clinic attendance due to fevers or symptoms associated with malaria was reduced by 80% while cases of laboratory confirmed diagnosis of malaria reduced by 16.7%. Laboratory test of A. annua leaf powder used in community indicated the presence of artemisinin (0.4% to 0.5%) and flavonoids (9% to 11%). A. annua extract devoid of artemisinin was found to significantly boost monocyte counts in albino rats (p<0.001).The action of these flovonoids could explain the mechanism of prophylaxis of A. annua ‘tea’. A. annua variety or product thereof rich in flavonoids but devoid of artemisinin should be developed and tried for mass prevention of malaria as a beverage or food taken regularly.