In this interview, Dr. Faraz Mojab, Secretary of Islamic Republic of Iran Board of Pharmacognosy, will address some useful information regarding this major and its state in the country.
Greetings to you Dr. Mojab and thank you for the time, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your activities.
In the name of God, I am Dr. Faraz Mojab, a pharmacist and a pharmacognosy expert, a faculty member of Shahid Beheshti Medical University and a professor. In these years, most of what I did has been educational (masters or PhD degree), partly regarding research including 90 papers in national and international journals, scientific-research and scientific-promotion, member of editorial board of some journals related to medicinal plants, presentation of several papers in national and international conferences, holding and lecturing in training workshops, some research projects, I have also managed so many theses of university students and I teach the subjects like medicinal plants, pharmacognosy and those related, as a visiting professor in two or three other universities. At the moment, I am the secretary of the pharmacognosy board of the country.
Please define the science of pharmacognosy, and inform us if it is the same as pharmacology of medicinal plants or if there are other issues involved?
Pharmacognosy cannot be defined by a single word. If we want to define it word by word it is confused with pharmacology. Pharmacology of medicinal plants and natural products is an interesting equivalent; however, the true definition of pharmacognosy would be: a science that involves a history, distribution, cultivation, harvest, preparation, commercialization, identification, evaluation, preservation and consumption of drugs and economic substances that are used for health and safety of humans and animals. This is a definition of pharmacognosy that is used in books, but there has not been an equivalent for it in Farsi, we might even refer to it as ‘analysis of herbal medicine’, which is not an exact phrase either.
In your definition, there was a reference to agricultural issues, does pharmacognosy deal with these issues as well?
In the definition, there was a reference to agricultural issues; however, these days,they have put aside the agricultural issues in pharmacognosy, since agricultural experts deal with these matters to a great extent and none of the pharmacognosists have much information about the medicinal plants cultivation, but deal with the effects of the drugs, the chemistry and the parts concerning pharmacy. The most important aspect of the science of pharmacognosy, is the analysis, quality and quantity control of medicinal plants and herbal medicine.
How well can a pharmacognosy graduate formulate herbal medicine and is capable at herbal pharmacy industry, given the courses and curriculum they have passed?
I believe, pharmacognosists have this ability; however, this is not all they can do. Mostly, they are to research and train pharmacists who can do this. Pharmacognosy is not an Iranian major, it exists all over the world; however, the curriculum might differ. For instance, there is no educational courses in England. In Iran, too, the curriculum may change according to the needs of the country. This course is for training those who can then teach this major and research, in universities and research centers for pharmacy. In addition, the graduates of this major have the ability to participate in the related industries and work, others can enter this field of work, too. For example, some of the pharmaceutical companies do not employ pharmacists and they too, are successful. Or some companies, according to their needs, employ experts from other majors and they are successful as well. The herbal pharmaceutical companies do not necessarily have to employ a pharmacognosist. A lot of these companies have a general pharmacist or take on graduates from other majors. Anyway, one of the things a pharmacognosist can do is to formulate herbal medicine, but they can also perform other tasks like, investigation of the medicinal effects of plants and herbs. The most important ability of a pharmacognosist, which does not have a substitute in Iran, is to determine the structure of unknown compounds of plants and natural substances using spectroscopic techniques.
Recently, a new field of study called ‘traditional pharmacy’, has been introduced, and although the industry of traditional pharmacy has not yet been developed, this field of study is formed. Please give your opinion regarding the similarities and differences between this field and pharmacognosy.
To be honest, I can’t say whether this field will be successful or not or if the industry of traditional pharmacy will develop in Iran, but the fact is that this field is quite similar to pharmacognosy and I believe that in this field they do exactly the same things as pharmacognosy. As far as I know, this field has been invented in Iran and does not have an exact equivalent in other countries. I have heard that when they wanted to approve of this field of study in Ministry of Health and Medical Education, they realized that there are a lot of courses and subjects that overlap with pharmacognosy and there were some unwillingness for its establishment, too. Anyhow, this field has been established, and if there is going to be some work done on manufacturing of traditional medicine in the field of traditional pharmacy, there is no problem. But the manufacturing of herbal medicine is related to the major of pharmacognosy and if other majors can be of help, they should play their role.
Some believe that this herbal pharmacy industry that exists in Iran, is an imitation of phytotheraphy of the west, and it may not be that much related to Iran’s traditional medicine. How do you see the state of Iran’s herbal medicine industry?
In my opinion, that does not matter. Anyways, the industries that operate in the field of herbal medicine, have manufacturing tasks too, and make products from medicinal plants which is also the need of the market. A large number of its formulas are successful ones and have been accepted in the society. There is no need for us to make traditional formulations in the field of pharmacognosy like one thousand years ago. In the field of traditional pharmacy, also we do not have such a claim, and the experts of that field are making new formulas. We are not supposed to make old traditional formulas like poultice and salving. I think that herbal medicine industry in Iran is not a weak one, it is doing its work and stands on its own feet. Although it might have some weak points that the country’s administrative, industrial and factory officials, need to endeavor to eliminate. This medicinal plants industry will improve in Iran like the rest of the world but alongside that we can see improvement in modern pharmacy. For instance, at the moment we are facing nanopharmacy industry and biotechnology medicine, which is improving in Iran and the world and no one is waiting for the other to overtake them. Or new antibiotics and chemical drugs that are constantly entering the market. Anyways, the objective is not to delete all of these and replace them with herbal medicine, but the goal is to cure people’s diseases with an easy, cheap, safe, effective and suitable method, whether the source is herbal, microbial, biotechnological or chemical.
In these past few years, medicinal plants and traditional medicine are among hot topics in Iran, and this has made it possible for any person with any expertise to allow themselves to enter this field and express their opinion in treatment and medicinal issues. What in your opinion should be done to prevent these problems and the damages it may cause in the future?
According to health and safety laws and the law making of Ministry of Health and Medical Education, it is the physician’s responsibility to diagnose diseases and the physician can prescribe drugs. Drugs must be given to patients through pharmacies. Those who are not related and do not have a permit from the Islamic Republic of Iran Medical Council, do not at all have the right to interfere with medical affairs and this is the law of the country. There are even some physicians who are not members of the Medical Council, they too, do not have the right to visit a patient and prescribe drugs not until they are members of this council. Just like those physicians who have recently entered the country, etc. The interference of those irrelevant may cause irreversible damages to people’s health and these laws have been legislated for just that. The making and presentation of drugs must also be done by a pharmacist. A strategy for all these maybe, to require senior managers and officials to further respect science, research, researchers, and professors.
In this respect, do you think the attitude of Ministry of Health and Medical Education can be effective or culturization of the people, or is there any other strategy?
I suppose Ministry of Health and Medical Education has not yet particularly dealt with this issue. Even currently we can see that this ministry does not take any actions unless there is a complaint. However, culturization and observing the morality in the society is of great importance. Taking one’s task seriously and not ignoring the law are the two things that need to be internalized. If everything goes well, there won’t be the need for the interference of non-specialists. Which means if people manage their personal hygiene in the most proper way and the government too, assist with the health and hygiene of the society so that there is healthy water, healthy air, healthy food, sport facilities, and possibilities of psychological well-being, etc, in order for the people to get less sick and only visit doctors when needed and well-educated and interested doctors should be able to control the diseases and to have safe and suitable medicine with a capable insurance company in the country. There may be no need for people to browse the net or watch satellite channels to find cures for their diseases, these problems will be solved automatically. I believe that our people should trust the physicians, the educated, the professionals, etc within their reach, rather than those who are outside the country and are unavailable.
A topic that was brought up a couple of years ago and that it is forgotten again, is the establishment of herbal pharmacies. In your opinion, is it necessary to establish these herbal pharmacies?
I don’t know the reason for the establishment of herbal pharmacies. Apparently, they are willing to systematize and control herb shops (Attaris) and train them so that they are educated and then start work. I think that this issue might encounter some difficulties at the administration stage, the reason is that, there are some herbalists who have had training and also long time experience, therefore, it will be difficult to train those.
Another thing is that, where should this training take place? For instance, is there a university or collage where they can be trained. Besides, what is supposed to be sold in these stores. If there is going to be herbal medicine sold, I should say that there are not so many. For example, there are one thousand something chemical drugs that are sold in ordinary pharmacies, as well as, herbal medicine, cosmetic and beauty products, and other items. But in herbal pharmacies, it is not clear what is going to be sold there? Is there going to be herbal medicine sold or medicinal plants, or what else? These things need to be precisely clarified. Since, according to the office of herbal medicine, presentation of drugs must be carried out by a pharmacist in the drugstore. Therefore, the herbal pharmacy might have interference with this matter and cause challenges. For this reason, I once again emphasize that the improvement of people’s health and hygiene must be on the agenda so that these sideline inadequacies are eliminated.
Do Iranian herbal medicine have the necessary requirements to be exported to the world, not just to the neighboring countries?
Yes, they do, and there have been some exports too. However, this needs to be done gradually and needs to be improved. But this matter includes different marketing procedures, commercialization, export, legal issues such as patenting, political interactions, mechanization and improvement of medicinal plants cultivation in order to be more economical. For instance, I have heard that there are some medicinal plant species used in our pharmaceutical industries, which are imported to Iran, and for them to be cultivated inside the country, is not economically feasible. These issues need to be resolved so that we can have a say in the global market. Of course, we need to pay attention to the fact that our rivals and other countries do not sit idly, and they too, are quite active to elevate their position within the world market. So, we cannot assume that with a mid-term or long-term plan we can control the global market, because the competitors take up most of this part and our officials must take that into consideration.
We appreciate the time, if there is any final statement you would like to add, please do.
My last point would be that, although our country has had improvement in the number of papers and scientific statistics, we need to pay attention to applicable aspect and the good quality of researches. The supreme leader has suitable strategies in his speeches and that is, he gives people hope. However, as he has recently mentioned, we need to consider the applicability and the good quality of these researches and not just the rising number of these papers.
Furthermore, National council for Science and Technology Development of Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine, Vice-presidency for Science and Technology, should invite and consult societies such as Iranian Society of Pharmacognosy so that using the assistance of each other, they can make strategies in the field of medicinal plants with a correct vision.
I believe that the problems in the field of medicinal plants will be resolved by research and export. By research, we do not mean writing papers only, but the attentive participation in different scientific fields of the world. For example, the possibility of university students’ participation in international conferences and international projects, the possibility of inviting professionals and experts from abroad to take part in domestic scientific projects,etc…