When we think about species extinction, the first images that all too often come to mind are some of those lovable big furry animals with high profile campaigns and appeals for donations. Who can forget WWF efforts to save the Panda? However, the loss of biodiversity is a worrying issue on a much wider scale and with direct human consequences.
Of course, in India, we are all very well versed on the serious implications on food security and the livelihoods of small farmers when genetic engineering and patents affect our access to basic sources of food. Another equally serious but less discussed topic deserves serious attention. Threats to human health are tangible when one considers medicine, both traditional and allopathic. When microorganisms or genetic diversity are lost, the possibilities of scientific discoveries for medicinal purposes are threatened.
According to the WHO traditional medicine continues to play a vital role in health care, especially in primary health care. Traditional medicines are used by the majority of the world’s population and in some countries are extensively incorporated into the public health system. The organisation asserts that medicinal plant use is the most common medication tool in traditional medicine and complementary medicine worldwide. The continued supply of most traditional medicine is dependent on the existence of plant biodiversity in the wild. Medicinal plants are supplied through collection from wild populations and cultivation. Biomedical research is also heavily reliant on the natural supply of plant and animal materials as well as microbes for understanding the physiology of humans and for treating diseases. Many medicines such as antibiotics and painkillers are cultivated from plant and animal sources and , every day, new discoveries allow for the advancement of medicine and the treatment of diseases.
Each time that a plant or animal species becomes extinct, the prospects of valuable medicinal harvesting as well as possible future medical discoveries are affected. Just imagine that a valuable ingredient that could be invaluable in treating some of the biggest diseases on the planet could have been lost before even having had the chance to be discovered!
Written by Carrie Byrne/ RESET editorial