Role of the WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants
The first volume of the WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants, containing 28 monographs, was published in 1999. It is gratifying that the importance of the monographs is already being recognized. For example, the European Commission has recommended volume 1 to its Member States as an authoritative reference on the quality, safety and efficacy of medicinal plants. The Canadian Government has also made a similar recommendation. Furthermore, as hoped, some of WHO's Member States, such as Benin, Mexico, South Africa and Viet Nam, have developed their own monographs based on the format of the WHO monographs.
The monographs are not only a valuable scientific reference for health authorities, scientists and pharmacists, but will also be of interest to the general public. There can be little doubt that the WHO monographs will continue to play an important role in promoting the proper use of medicinal plants throughout the world.
Preparation of monographs for volume 2
At the eighth International Conference on Drug Regulatory Authorities (ICDRA) held in Manama, Bahrain, in 1996, WHO reported the completion of volume 1 of the WHO monographs. Member States requested WHO to continue to develop additional monographs. As a consequence, preparation of the second volume began in 1997.
During the preparation, the number of experts involved, in addition to members of WHO's Expert Advisory Panel on Traditional Medicine, significantly increased compared to that for volume 1. Similarly, the number of national drug regulatory authorities who participated in the preparation also greatly increased. This global network of active collaborators facilitated wider access to the scientific references and information, thus increasing both the quality and quantity of the monographs. These combined efforts greatly improved the efficiency of the preparation. As for volume 1, the monographs were drafted by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, United States of America.
The Second WHO Consultation on Selected Medicinal Plants was held in Ravello-Salerno, Italy, in March 1999 to review and finalize the draft monographs. Twenty experts and drug regulatory authorities from WHO Member States participated (see Annex 1). Following extensive discussion, 30 of 31 draft monographs were approved for volume 2. At the subsequent ninth ICDRA in Berlin, Germany in April 1999, the 30 draft monographs were presented, and Member States requested WHO to publish them as soon as possible.
Purpose and content of the monographs
The purpose of the monographs was clearly explained in the introduction to volume 1, and it is unnecessary to repeat it here. However, it is important to emphasize that the word "monograph", as appears in the title, is used as a technical term only. These monographs are not intended to be official pharmacopoeial monographs.
It should also be stressed that this publication is not intended to replace official compendia such as pharmacopoeias, formularies or legislative documents. Furthermore, the descriptions included in the section on medicinal uses should not be taken as implying WHO's official endorsement or approval. They merely represent the systematic collection of scientific information available at the time of preparation, for the purpose of facilitating information exchange.
A description of selected sections of the monographs is given in the General technical notices. For easy reference, two cumulative indexes are also provided as annexes. Annex 2 lists the monographs in alphabetical order of the plant name, while Annex 3 is according to the plant material of interest.
Dr Xiaorui Zhang
Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy
World Health Organization