The plant qinghao 青蒿 (Artemesia annua) has provided the world with a valuable anti-malarial drug (qinghaosu 青蒿素). Another useful anti-malarial drug (febrifugine) of Chinese origin can be extracted from the shrub Dichroa febrifuga (changshan) but, unlike qinghaosu, its chemical structure is relatively simple and it could be easily synthesised in a pharmaceutical factory. However, the presence of two chiral centres in the molecule makes this unsuitable for pharmacological use as only one of the four isomers (the one found naturally) kills the malarial parasite, but all four isomers (as in the synthetic material) have serious adverse side effects. Encouraging African governments to consider growing Dichroa febrifuga as an alternative to the expensive and scarce qinghaosu should be considered.
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