Ethnomedicine in War-Affected Pakistan


Ethnomedicine use in the war affected region of northwest Pakistan

Adnan M, Ullah I, Tariq A, Murad W, Azizullah A, Khan AL, Ali N
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2014 Jan 31;10:16
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3932995

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan [source: TUBS, Wikimedia Commons]
Muhammad Adnan of Kohat University of Science and Technology, with colleagues from that institution and the University of Nizwa, conducted a ethnomedicinal study to document medicinal plants used in Bannu District, a region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan much affected by the “War on Terror.”

From the Introduction:

“This study has been carried out in the Frontier Region (FR) Bannu, which has suffered heavily due following the onset of the Global War on Terrorism. Various ethnomedicinal studies have been carried out in other regions of Pakistan; however, the FR has yet to be explored due to limited access. The area represents one of the country’s richest centers of biodiversity and it is a strong source of indigenous knowledge. Most of the population of the area is rural with a low literacy rate; hence they are more dependent upon natural resources, and especially on plants for their healthcare needs and livelihoods. War has crippled modern health facilities in the study area, which in turn has resulted in the spreading of gastrointestinal and skin related diseases among others. However, local people are increasingly using ethnomedicines to treat such diseases at the local level. Shinwari et al. perceived a diminishing of indigenous knowledge due to the ever increasing influence of global commercialization and socio-economic transformation, and a dire need was expressed to preserve such knowledge on medicinal plants before it disappears. Hence, the present study was designed with the following objectives: (i) to identify and explore plant species that are being used locally for the treatment and prevention of various diseases; (ii) to document traditional recipes from medicinal plants including methods of preparation and modes of administration; and (iii) to investigate the current and future status of traditional knowledge among different age groups. The present study may help in the preservation of indigenous knowledge on ethnomedicines and provide baseline data for future studies.”

Nannorrhops ritchiana
Nannorrhops ritchiana is under threat in the region due to over-collection [source: Stan Shebs, Wikimedia Commons]
The team carried out fieldwork in all seasons from March 2012 to February 2013, collecting data on medicinal plants using structured and semi-structured questionnaires from 250 local respondents. They identified 107 species of medicinal plants, used most commonly for carminative purposes (i.e., to treat gas in the gastrointestinal tract), followed by blood purification. The dominant medicinal plant species are Acacia modesta, Acacia nilotica, Calotropis procera, Dodonaea viscosa and Withania somnifera.

Two species, Caralluma tuberculata and Nannorrhops ritchiana, identified as having potential for cultivation to achieve ecological restoration and rural livelihood, are under threat due to over-collection.

The authors conclude that armed conflict in the so-called War on Terror has severely degraded the region’s ethnomedicinal knowledge, which serves as an integral source of rural livelihood:

“Traditional medicines serve as an integral source of rural livelihood in the study region in northwestern Pakistan, which is severely affected by armed conflict in the so-called War on Terror. The study area has plenty of medicinal plants to treat a wide spectrum of human ailments and local healers, although in decline, can be experts in the preparation of various ethnomedicinal remedies. Moreover, the use of specific plant parts, similar uses of same plants in different regions and multiple uses of single plants for the preparation of medicinal remedies suggest the prevalence of biologically active compounds across a range of medicinal plant species. Further phytochemical analysis, pharmaceutical application and clinical trials are therefore recommended in order to evaluate the authenticity of ethnomedicines to scientific standards. Indigenous knowledge on ethnomedicinal preparations persist more among older traditional healers, however, such knowledge is being lost to younger generations and continuing armed conflict in the region may further inhibit the transition of such knowledge. As such, studies on the documentation of ethnomedicines may be extended to other war-affected areas for the protection of traditional knowledge.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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