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Medicinal Plants
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When the Medicinal Plants program was created, the first step, as well as other initiatives of Cultivating Good Water, was to seek partnerships with organizations already working with the theme in region, such as universities, laboratories, associations, NGOs and government agencies. Thereafter, we conducted a regional survey about which were the most common diseases and what herbal remedies they needed for treating these diseases, in as much as they were species addressed by scientific studies and with proven efficacy.

In 2005, Itaipu created a herbarium, with a complete structure for the drying and production of herbal medicines, attached to a garden of 1.5 hectares. There, the harvesting, cleaning, processing and quality control are carried out, in addition to assembling a kit with 18 kinds of medicinal plants used in the treatment of the ten most common diseases in the region. The kits are sent to the National Health System (SUS) clinics.

One of the findings is that, although the vast majority of people know and use medicinal plants (82%), a significant proportion (16%) used them incorrectly and downplayed the occurrence of side effects. Another problem identified is that health professionals were not trained to work with herbal medicines, and to act in this area, you have to like the subject and be convinced of the efficacy of these plants.

Thus, for three years, the project has been emphasized training and awareness, seeking to overcome old prejudices and show clinical proof. The Brazilian Institute of Medicinal Plants, in Rio de Janeiro, which already offers courses in graduate school in this area, was hired to conduct the training courses. The first was held in 2007 and was attended by several health  professionals, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. In 2009, there was the second course, specifically for prescribers (professionals who can legally prescribe medication), such as doctors, dentists and nutritionists.

In addition, the Association for Integrated Education, Nature and Health (Aciens) provides courses in basic education, hygiene, sanitation and how to use and prepare herbs (teas, infusions and herbs), to poor communities, the landless and Indians. Together, the basic courses for professionals has trained more than 10,000 people.

Often, the deployment of such a project is accepted uneasily by the Secretary of Health, who is used to working with allopathic medicines. However, as the effectiveness of herbal medicines, for the clinical and economic benefits for the city has been proven, this barrier has been largely overcome. It is important to stress that without the support of the municipal administration, it is impossible to develop a program of this magnitude.

Besides providing the kits, Itaipu sponsors the courses. The counterpart of municipalities is to provide health professionals and the infrastructure for training.

Another strategy of the program is to establish a chain of production to the farms as an alternative income, and a distribution network in BP3 with the municipal health departments. In an area of 1.5 hectare it is possible to produce enough to meet the needs of ten health clinics.

The production of herbal medicines must necessarily be organic. In partnership with Oscip Sustentec (which also participates in the Sustainable Rural Development program), training is offered to farmers from planting to packaging. One of the advantages of cultivation of medicinal plants is that native species such as Maytenus, Pata de Vaca and Embaúba can be grown in a Permanent Protection Area.

The program guides the farmer to look first at the list of the National Health System (SUS) herbal medicines, which is indicative of the market that can be exploited.

Today, 32 health care units in the region provide herbal medicines to patients. The municipality of Vera Cruz do Oeste, for example, reduced spending by 30% with the treatment of hypertension and diabetes after the adoption of medicinal plants in its health care units.

Itaipu has a garden and a structure drying of medicinal plants in Bela Vista Biological Refuge. The structure has provided more than 380,000 seedlings and eight tonnes of dried herbal medicines. In addition, it assisted farmers to organize themselves as cooperative, and in partnership with the city of Pato Bragado, created a unit of dry extract, allowing to increase the added value to the production of medicinal plants.

Today, 32 health care clinics in the region provide herbal medicines to patients.
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