Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and the consequent acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) pose an unprecedented challenge to health planners, clinicians, other health workers, scientists and the community at large. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently estimates that more than 8 million people are already infected with HIV and about 1 million adults have suffered or are suffering from AIDS.
Persons with AIDS are seeking many different treatments, some using plant products, with the hope of obtaining either a cure or relief of symptoms. There is scientific evidence, based on in vitro studies, that some medicinal plants do in fact have inhibitory effects on HIV. A consultation on in vitro screening of traditional medicines for anti-HIV activity, held in Geneva from 6 to 8 February 1989, offered promise that scientifically valid collaborative studies of traditional medicines, particularly medicinal plants, might lead to effective and affordable therapeutic agents.1
1Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 67(6): 613-618 (1989).
Against this background, the Global Programme on AIDS (GPA) Biomedical Research Unit, and the Traditional Medicine Programme (TRM) of the World Health Organization (WHO) convened a consultation in Geneva from 26 to 28 September 1990, with the objective of developing guidelines on the clinical evaluation of the safety and possible efficacy of traditional remedies in the treatment of persons with AIDS.
The consultation was attended by ten participants from eight countries (Annex 1). Opening the meeting, Dr Hu Ching-Li, Assistant Director-General of WHO, cited the growing menace posed by AIDS and emphasized the limitations of existing drug therapy. Traditional medicines, which are being used empirically in many countries for the treatment of AIDS, therefore need to be evaluated clinically to establish their safety and possible efficacy in the treatment of AIDS and AIDS-related diseases.
Dr O. Akerele, Programme Manager, TRM, outlined the activities of the programme with particular reference to the collaborative activities with GPA.
Dr J. Esparza, Acting Chief, Vaccine Development, GPA, welcomed the participants on behalf of GPA and provided information on the general goals and current activities of the programme.