Today in Washington, DC, a small group of people representing nine states have gathered to visit congressional offices and appeal to their leaders for governmental change.
“The rosy periwinkle [Catharanthus roseus] plant is used for the cancer-fighting drug treatment known as Vincristine. In the case of my daughter, Isabelle would not have survived had researchers not discovered the rosy periwinkle before it became extinct.”
– Teri Morin
These people aren’t your typical lobbyists; some of them have overcome serious illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, while others have dedicated their lives to searching for cures for these devastating diseases. All agree that if it weren’t for nature-based medicines–many derived from threatened species struggling to survive in distant habitats–many of them would not be alive today.
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The survivors and researchers were brought together by the Alliance for Global Conservation–a coalition within which Conservation International (CI) is a partner–to lobby Congress for passage of the recently introduced Global Conservation Act of 2010. Their testaments give voice to a movement that is urging the United States to become a conservation leader, taking bolder steps to ensure human well-being for generations to come.
The Healing Power of Forests
Species-based cures have been a part of human cultures for thousands of years. Today, research and development of pharmaceuticals is a multi-billion dollar industry, and nature remains at its core.
Event participant Teri Morin’s daughter Isabelle was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of three. “The rosy periwinkle [Catharanthus roseus] plant is used for the cancer-fighting drug treatment known as Vincristine. In the case of my daughter, Isabelle would not have survived had researchers not discovered the rosy periwinkle before it became extinct.”
Research by the World Resources Institute has found that 10 of the world’s 25 top-selling drugs are derived from natural sources. Medicines have been derived from sources as varied as tree bark, coral and reptile venom, but so far tropical forests have proven to be the ecosystems with the largest implications for human health–25 percent of prescription drugs on the market are derived from tropical forest species.
Yet despite their importance–not only for medicine, but also for food, fresh water, carbon storage and other benefits that affect people around the world–deforestation continues to shrink these forests every year.
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A Bold Proposal
Under the bipartisan Global Conservation Act of 2010, the U.S. government would designate a coordinator within the executive branch, who would oversee ambitious new plans to:
- protect millions of square miles of land and sea;
- address illegal and unregulated fishing and wildlife trafficking;
- safeguard the planet’s crucial freshwater sources; and
- reduce environmental destruction in places especially vulnerable to conflict.
These initiatives would be closely coordinated with the conservation strategies of other developed countries, strengthening global partnerships in the protection of our shared resources.
Conservation on this scale would have innumerable benefits for people, species and ecosystems around the world, including the United States. Inadequate biodiversity protection is already impacting human health; the U.N. Environment Programme estimates that the current global extinction rate could eliminate one prescription drug from the market every two years. Yet even now, much about nature is still unknown to science. For example, only one percent of rainforest plants have been tested for medicinal benefits.
As part of the Alliance for Global Conservation – together with Pew Charitable Trusts, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund – CI is helping to advise the U.S. government on conservation measures that must be taken. As a trusted advisor to national policy makers, we bring our vast field experience and science – including over 20 years of biodiversity research and discovery – to help inform strategic and effective policies to combat this critical issue.
Without immediate action, countless more species will soon vanish without a trace, taking with them the gift of life.
READ MORE: From Poision to Prescriptions