Over the last decade or so, the World Health Assembly has passed a number of resolutions in response to a resurgence of interest in the study and use of traditional medicine in health care, and in recognition of the importance of medicinal plants to the health systems of many developing countries. This great surge of public interest in the use of plants as medicines has been based on the assumption that the plants will be available on a continuing basis. Today many medicinal plants face extinction or severe genetic loss, but detailed information is lacking.
In the light of this situation, WHO, IUCH and WWF decided that it would be timely to collaborate in convening an International Consultation on the conservation of medicinal plants, bringing together leading conservationists, scientists and health administrators to exchange views on the problems, determine priorities and make recommendations for action. The Consultation took place in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 21-27 March 1988, with the Ministry of Public Health of the Royal Thai Government as host. These Guidelines are a result of this Consultation.
The aim of these Guidelines is to provide a framework for the conservation and sustainable use of plants in medicine. To do this, the Guidelines describe the various tasks that should be carried out to ensure that where medicinal plants are taken from the wild, they are taken on a basis that is sustainable.
The Guidelines conform to the principles of Caring for the Earth, prepared in partnership by IUCN, UNEP and WWF. Caring for the Earth extends the message and scope of the World Conservation Strategy to an ethic of sustainable living, and explains how to integrate conservation with development. Its message is particularly relevant to the issue of medicinal plants, which in many parts of the world are being seriously depleted due to over-exploitation and loss of habitats, resulting in a lack of essential medicines and so reducing options for the future.
The Guidelines also implement one of the recommendations of the Global Diversity Strategy, jointly produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI), IUCN and UNEP, as a set of specific proposals to safeguard the world's biological diversity.