Many developing countries around the globe that
don't have easy access to western or bio-medicine depend heavily on
their traditional ways of healing. Laos, a small landlocked Southeast Asian country abound in rivers,
jungles and mountains, is one of them. Due to its tropical climate, Laos has a large variety
of herbal plants to offer to its people for use in making traditional
Traditional medicine has been practiced and embedded in Lao culture since its
existence as a country. Working in collaboration with the International
Biodiversity Group and the Traditional Medicine Research Center at the University
of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in a project to search for local plants to fight
diseases, Bethany Elkington, a Ph. D. student in the College of Pharmacy at UIC will
be joining a research team in Laos to study herbal medicine for tuberculosis.
As Bethany mentioned in an interview with VOA, Asia
is facing big troubles in fighting tuberculosis. She says Laos has the smallest number of
tuberculosis cases among Southeast Asian countries, attributing it to the size
of the population. The research group at the UIC is currently working in Laos
to find plants that has substance to cure tuberculosis. On the last trip, the
group found more than 60 plants, and about 6-7 of them have a compound that
warrants further studies and development. The Lao National Research Center in Vientiane
has limited laboratories that can only complete the process to certain extent. Therefore,
the plants found in Laos will have to be extracted or dried, and then brought to
the United States for further research.
Bethany says, "Since the majority of local people
live far away in remote regions and do not have access to biomedicine (modern
or western medicine), Lao people depend heavily on the traditional medicine with
local healers. But because those healers have been practicing this method over
hundreds of years since their ancestors' time, they are familiar and very
effective in what amount and how to use the herbal medicines."
Bethany tells VOA she will be working in Laos for
ten months to find the cure for tuberculosis. "I am very excited to be working
in Laos for some period. I am very fortunate to work in this project. I'll be
learning more about the language, the culture and traditions and be closer to
the people. I'll be working closely with local healers throughout the region,"
Listen to audio files for more details.