Herbal medicine research and global health: an ethical analysis

In China, traditional herbal medicine played a prominent role in the strategy to contain and treat severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).1 Eighty per cent of African populations use some form of traditional herbal medicine,2,3 and the worldwide annual market for these products approaches US$ 60 billion.2 Many hope traditional herbal medicine research will play a critical role in global health. China, India, Nigeria, the United States of America (USA) and WHO have all made substantial research investments in traditional herbal medicines.2 Industry has also invested millions of US dollars looking for promising medicinal herbs and novel chemical compounds.4,5 This is still a relatively modest investment compared to the overall pharmaceutical industry; however, it raises interesting ethical questions, some of which are not faced in more conventional drug development.