Anti-cancer: Rosy periwinkle
This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vinblastine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 95%, while vincristine is used to treat Hodgkins’ Disease.
Traditional Madagascan healers used the rosy periwinkle for treating diabetes. This led to its study by western scientists who then discovered its anti-cancer properties.
These medicines have proved very profitable for global drug companies. Worldwide sales are worth over £75 million a year, but virtually none of this money finds its way back to Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Some pharmaceutical companies are trying to redress this imbalance by working closely with ethno-botanists and indigenous healers, and sharing profits more equitably.
There are also recent international agreements which have tried to ensure that more profits from the commercial development of animal and plant species return to the countries of origin.
One such agreement is the Convention on Biological Diversity which seeks the ‘fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources’, together with the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components
At a glance
Distribution and Habitat
Rainforests of south-eastern and eastern Madagascar. Grown ornamentally around the world
Small shrub up to 1m (3’) tall with 2.5-10cm (1-4’’) long leaves
Source of cancer treatment. Madagascan people use it to treat diabetes. Ornamental plant
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