Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine in Sierra Leone by Cyrus Macfoy, Ph.D.
Vitabu: When did you first become interested in medicinal plants and traditional medicine in Sierra Leone?
Cyrus Macfoy: During my Ph.D. research at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (University of London) in the mid 1970’s I was fascinated by the fact that some of the compounds that plants have evolved to defend themselves against pathogens, pests and herbivores are indeed the same compounds that are responsible for curing many diseases and illnesses in humans. Thus, when I joined Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, in 1979 as a biochemist in the Biology Department, and was deciding what area of research to pursue that would be of direct relevance to Sierra Leone, I naturally converged to the areas of medicinal plants and traditional medicine; and other useful plants; areas that were more like virgin areas for research in Sierra Leone at that time, since very little work had been done to that date, despite the vast myriad of useful plant species in the flora of Sierra Leone.
Vitabu: How long did it take you to write Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine in Sierra Leone?
Cyrus Macfoy: Most of the field research was conducted in the 80’s before I left Sierra Leone for the U.K. where I continued the work and started writing in the 90’s. In the 2000’s, further research and writing was continued in the U.S.A. intermittently between lecturing, other research projects and consultancy work for the United Nations, Commonwealth Secretariat and the World Bank.
Vitabu: Accessing healthcare is such a big issue for the poor and underserved but after reading your book the irony is we're all surrounded by plants that can cure mostly everything.
Cyrus Macfoy: Indeed access to health care by the poor and underserved in Sierra Leone is still challenging.
Many people depend on traditional healers for their health care provision, and there is a vast cornucopia of medicinal plant species throughout Sierra Leone. This traditional system of medicine has the potential to more effectively contribute to affordable, accessible, appropriate, efficient and effective health care services for all. But the system remains unstructured and unregulated with many untrained herbalists, quacks, and profiteering charlatans. Products by many herbalists are not standardized, hence dosage and hygiene are sometimes major issues. Products are not subject to quality control, safety, and efficacy.
However a new national policy has been developed and launched in 2007 that addresses these issues, but it still awaits Government ratification. Once this is done and implemented appropriately, I envisage that traditional medicine will play a more meaningful role in the health care delivery system in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Cyrus MacFoy has served as a consultant for the United Nations, Commonwealth Secretariat, and the World Bank to various African and European countries. He graduated from Royal Holloway College, University of London, with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and from the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of London with a master’s degree in environmental science and a doctorate in ecological biochemistry.