(CN) — Scientists on Thursday revealed a new hope for people affected by neglected tropical diseases, as research has uncovered traditional medicines from the African country of Ghana which could help treat some of those diseases.
Neglected tropical diseases primarily affect the poorest who live in tropical climates. They are called neglected because they garner less attention and less research funding goes into treating them, despite the fact that more than 1.7 billion are affected by the diseases and billions of dollars are lost by their economic impact.
In a study published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers from the University of Ghana identified traditional medicines that have the potential to treat three diseases: schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.
Schistosomiasis, also called snail fever, is caused by an infection of flatworms and affects the liver and kidneys. Onchocerciasis, also called river blindness, is caused by a parasitic worm and can lead to itching and blindness. Lymphatic filariasis occurs when people become infected by a parasitic worm and can cause elephantiasis, a syndrome that creates massive swelling in the arms and legs.
While there are some drugs to treat these diseases, the study authors said they “can lead to reduced efficacy and the emergence of drug resistance.”
Using an assortment of 15 traditional medicines, the scientists discovered three herbal extracts that helped to slow down and even kill the worms responsible for the diseases. In testing against the S. mansoni worm responsible for schistosomiasis, the extracts NTD-B4-DCM and NTD-B7-DCM reduced the movement of the worm by 78.4% and 84.3% respectively.
Another extract labeled NTD-B2-DCM successfully killed 100% of male and 60% of female Onchocera onchengi worms responsible for onchocerciasis.
“By embracing indigenous knowledge systems which have evolved over centuries, we can potentially unlock a wealth of untapped research and shape it by conducting sound scientific investigations to produce safe, efficacious and good quality remedies,” the researchers said in a statement.
The three diseases have hit Ghana particularly hard. Although the country’s economy has grown in recent years, almost one-fourth of its 30 million citizens live below the national poverty level and remain susceptible to disease.