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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2001

Traditional medicine can be new niche for us

Word that Mainland pharmaceutical researchers have signed a contract with a Samoan village to explore the worth of a local medicinal plant as an AIDS treatment is more than good news for villagers and those living with AIDS.

It is an early example of a new approach to economic development that combines profits with a strong environmental ethic. While this particular project focuses on Samoa, there are strong lessons for Hawai'i as well.

As reported by science writer Jan TenBruggencate, an agreement between the AIDS ReSearch Alliance and a Samoan village will explore the medical benefits of a plant called Homalanthus nutans, used by native healers to treat hepatitis. If the plant proves useful, the villagers will share in any profits that might be made.

The agreement is the work of well-known ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox, who heads the National Tropical Botanical Garden here. Cox has long been involved in research into the medical and economic value of traditional medicine and tropical plants.

The Samoan project suggests there is far more to be learned about the value of tropical plants and of the importance of traditional medicine. It also suggests there is economic value to the tropical rainforest that goes far beyond clearing it for forestry products.

Largely through Cox's efforts, the potential of traditional medicine and native plants is gaining an increasingly high profile. As Hawai'i looks for economic alternatives to our traditional pillars of tourism and industrial agriculture, we cannot ignore this intriguing and entirely appropriate new field.