Validating ethnoveterinary medicine

Evelyn Mathias, October 2001
 
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Validation methods 

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Validation to prove or disprove local claims

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Validation for drug development 

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Validation for technology transfer 

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Validation for field use in extreme conditions

Validation methods

Ethnoveterinary practices need to be validated before they can be widely promoted. Several levels of validation are possible:

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Tapping the experience of local people, for example, by asking them to rank local treatments according to their perceived efficacy.

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Searching the literature for available information on the botany, phytochemistry, and in-vitro, in-silico (i.e., computer-based) and in-vivo tests, and other relevant aspects.

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Conducting laboratory tests.

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Conducting clinical tests on station or in experimental herds.

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Conducting clinical tests in selected herds kept by smallholders and pastoralists. Alternatively, farmers may conduct their own tests.

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Monitoring the use of remedies in the field.

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Studying a remedy’s influence on production and economic parameters.

The exact method or combination of methods will depend on the intended use of the practice to be tested and the purpose of the validation.

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Validation to prove or disprove local claims

The methodology for this should be scientifically valid, while at the same time accounting for the fact that traditional remedies might work differently from modern medicines. For example, they may not be as powerful as modern drugs, but they do not wipe out all disease-causing organisms and thus allow the patient’s defence system to get into contact with the organisms and build up immunity. This might be a long-term process and more difficult to determine than (say) counting parasite eggs in the faeces. Therefore studying the efficacy of traditional remedies likely requires a different combination of methods and a longer time horizon than testing modern drugs. For example, the examination of blood samples might be needed in addition to faecal counts.

Besides, ethnoveterinary practices are parts of a complex system, and isolating only one aspect for study precludes insights into the whole system. If a farmer controls worms in her animals through a combination of grazing management and herbal drenches, the drench alone may not produce a distinct effect in clinical trials. Also, the genetic makeup of the local breed may play an additional role in worm control. For such complex practices, systems research is needed to capture synergistic effects of the different aspects.

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Validation for drug development

If a plant remedy is to be studied for its suitability for drug development, tests have to meet scientific standards. And if a preparation is to be commercialised, it has to be tested according to a country’s laws.

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Validation for technology transfer

While some ethnoveterinary practices are location-specific, others are suited for use in other communities and regions. Examples are the widespread use of papaya as a dewormer and tobacco as an insecticide. Not all aspects of ethnoveterinary medicine are as easily transferable as plant medicines – a plant may not grow in the target area, a practice may be culturally inappropriate to other regions, or it may be too complicated to be easily learned. 

Example: branding. Pastoralists around the world treat their animals by burning them with a hot iron. Although its use is controversial among outsiders, it may be beneficial in some conditions. Branding requires special skills but these are difficult to transfer. 

When transferring peoples’ practices from one location to another, criteria similar to those for other technologies should apply:

Assessing a local practice for its suitability to be transferred to other locations 

Efficacy: Does it work? Is it effective? Under what conditions?

Cost-effectiveness: Is it cost-effective? Affordable to the poor?

Availability: Are its ‘ingredients’ available at this location? In sufficient amounts? Decreasing?

Understandability: Is it easy to understand? Easy to handle?

Cultural appropriateness: Is it culturally appropriate? Will it be accepted?

Effect on different groups in communities: How will it affect the different user- and non-user groups in the village? Who would be burdened, who would benefit?

Environmental soundness: How does it affect the environment?Constraints: What are potential constraints to its use or application? Can they be overcome? 

Source: IIRR 1996 

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Validation for field use in extreme conditions

In situations ‘where there is no vet’ nor drugs, or where people cannot afford expensive, imported medicines, healthcare providers may consider practices

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which have been ranked as effective and safe by local healers and herders,

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which have been successfully tested elsewhere and the results have appeared in reliable publications,

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which are known to be safe and widely used in human ethnomedicine or elsewhere in animals.

References:
IIRR 1996; Martin et al. 2001; Mathias and Anjaria forthcoming.

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