Located in West Africa, Mali is a landlocked country with an area of approximately 1, 246,000 Km2 for an estimated population of 13 million inhabitants. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world with a GPD of 725$ (2002) per capita . The economy is essentially based on agriculture; the health sector policy promotes community-based, self-supported health care services and the administration of essential medicines including traditional medicines . Like in many other developing countries, people in Mali use medicinal plants to improve their state of health. Traditional medicine is a significant element in the cultural patrimony. Its use has increased with the increase in price of conventional medicine in the local currency. Traditional medicine still remains the main recourse for a large majority of people for treating health problems. Approximately 80% of the population in Mali use traditional medicine as their only type of medicine . Official medical attention is usually based on commercial drugs that have to be purchased with money, while a traditional medical consultancy has a much lower cost, including the consumption of the medicinal plants required . Most of the plants used in this traditional medicine have never been investigated for their chemical composition and pharmacological activities. It is therefore important to study these plants to substantiate the traditional medical knowledge. People, and especially the traditional healers, should be informed of the benefits, risk and limitation of the plants they use for medical purposes.
A traditional healer is defined as a person with competence to practice traditional medicine. From 1968 to 1978 registration of traditional healers and medicinal plants was carried out in all the administrative regions in Mali by an interdisciplinary team. The competence of a healer is evaluated on the person's achievements on curing diseases and the results are essential for consideration of registering the person as a traditional healer. After being registered, the DMT sets up a principle of collaborating with the traditional healers. The collaborating healer is not obliged to deliver samples of his medications to DMT, but if he wishes to do so the plants will be subjected to toxicological, pharmacological and phytochemical analyses, the results of which are given to the healer. As a result of this collaboration, the healer is granted official recognition as a practitioner in traditional medicine and is provided with an identity card for traditional practitioners. Other traditional healers are also allowed to practice with no restriction, but they do not have a registration card. In some localities of Mali, the healers are grouped in association and have created gardens of medicinal plants . All studies being undertaken between DMT and the traditional healers follow ethical aspects and rules set down by the local government as both DMT and the traditional healers are part of the health care system of Mali.
The Department of Traditional Medicinal (DMT), the first research establishment for the study of medicinal plants in Mali, and a collaborating centre of World Health Organisation (WHO) on traditional medicine, has as the main objectives: the registration of traditional healers, traditional knowledge and medicinal plants, in addition to perform research, and to develop Improved Traditional Medicines (ITMs) from local plants.
Several medicinal plants have been studied in the laboratory of DMT using classical methodology for phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology. According to the results of these studies, pharmaceutical formulae have been developed from plants in their natural form or in the form of infusion in ointments and syrups. These phytomedicines are called Improved Traditional Medicines. DMT has so far developed 12 ITMs that have been standardised according to traditional administration regimes. The doses have been investigated for lack of toxicity and the expiration dates for the products have been determined. These products are now being sold in drugstores in Mali. Seven of these are acknowledged as essential medicines by the Health department in Mali. These ITMs are: Balembo against cough, Dysenterial against dysentery, Gastrosedal against ulcers and gastritis, Hepatisane against hepatitis, Laxia-cassia against constipation, Malarial against malaria and Psorospermine against dermatitis .
In this willpower to develop new traditional medicines, several ethnobotanical studies were carried out on medicinal plants from Mali [4–7]. Our study is placed within this framework.
The aim of this study was to identify different uses of certain medicinal plants which were retained for the investigations as new ITMs, but a lack of substantiated information on their use in traditional medicine made this survey necessary. Seven plants were chosen for this study and their uses in traditional medicine were investigated. In February 2005 an ethnopharmacological survey was carried out in Siby, Doila and Kolokani in nearby areas of Bamako, the capital of Mali. The village and healers in the areas to be interviewed were selected randomly and no appointment was made prior to the visits.
The result will give an overview on the cure potency of these plants according to the traditional medicinal healers in these areas. The plants will later be investigated for chemical pharmacological and toxicological aspects by DMT in order to be developed into new Improved Traditional Medicines that can be registered by the Health department in Mali.