Technology & Science

Think-tank suggests Afghans grow ingredient in anti-malarial drugs

An international policy think-tank is proposing a project in which Afghan farmers grow plants containing Artemisinin, an ingredient in anti-malarial drugs.

A security and development policy group wants to add another option to itsPoppy for Medicine Proposal, ainitiative announced earlier in 2007 intended to encourage Afghan farmers to use their fields to grow drugs other than opium.

The Senlis Council, an international policy think tank, is proposing a project in which Afghan farmers grow plants containing Artemisinin, an ingredient in newly developed, potent anti-malarial drugs.

The idea is that farmers can cultivate the plant,Artemisia annua L., as a cash crop that would benefit their communities and increase farmers' incomes. The Artemisinin would be extracted from the harvested plants and sold to the Afghan government.

Other initiatives announced by the council have included encouraging Afghan farmers to grow opium poppies for morphine, a painkiller in short supply, rather than for the development and sale of illegal heroin.

"Using the Poppy for Medicine project to also cultivate [Artemisia] as a cash crop would greatly benefit Afghan farming communities by increasing the incomes of those farmers not contracted to cultivate Poppy for Medicine in any one year," Norine MacDonald, president and lead field researchers of the Senlis Council, said in arelease issued Wednesday.

"Not only would the extraction of Artemisinin help diversify the economy of Afghanistan's rural communities, and reinforce a new pharmaceutical industry for Afghanistan, it would go a long way towards addressing the 500 million cases of clinical malaria each year around the world."

The council says there is a worldwide demand for affordable malarial drugs that the Afghan initiative could help satisfy. It says the World Health Organization has recommended Artemisinin to treat drug-resistant malaria.

Artemisia annua thrives in sunny, semi-arid nutrient-poor regions. These growing conditions exist in Afghanistan.