Legesse Wolde-Yohannes
( 1989 , Ethiopia )

...for discovering and campaigning relentlessly for an affordable preventative against bilharzia.

In this context it is very often overlooked that the solution to a poor man's health is close at hand.


Legesse Wolde-Yohannes joined the research work of doctor Aklilu Lemma in 1974 and intensively contributed to the study of the suds taken from the fruit of a common African plant, the endod or soapberry. This plant represents a cheap solution against schistosomiasis, as well as a locally producible detergent for improved hygiene and an additive for a foaming agent in light weight concrete-preparation. His studies provided an affordable solution to an eventually fatal illness.

Contact

Dr Legesse Wolde-Yohannes
Assoc. Professor of Biology
Addis Ababa University
Aklilu Lemma Institute of PathobiologyAddis Ababa
ETHIOPIA
P.O. Box 1176

http://www.aau.edu.et/i

Biography

Bilharzia, or schistosomiasis, is a debilitating and eventually fatal illness, which afflicts more than 200 million people in 74 countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Present therapies for bilharzia, and molluscicides to kill the snail-carriers of the disease, are far too expensive for the communities that need them.

In 1964 a young Ethiopian doctor, Aklilu Lemma, discovered that suds from the fruit of a common African plant, the endod or soapberry, which African women have used as soap for centuries, act as a potent molluscicide. To follow up this discovery, Lemma in 1966 established the Institute of Pathobiology in Addis Ababa University, and for the next 10 years he directed a team to carry out systematic research on endod. He was joined in this work in 1974 by Legesse Wolde-Yohannes.

The discovery seemed to offer no less than a cheap, locally-controllable means of eradicating a disease that is the second greatest scourge (after malaria) in the Third World. And Lemma’s early research confirmed this potential. Yet progress in making this endod product available to the people who need it has been extremely slow, for reasons that expose some of the biases and failings of the international medical community.

In the last few years, however, Lemma’s and Wolde-Yohannes’ persistence and the support of key scientists and donors in the West has opened the door to the necessary laboratory and field trials. An endod research and applica …

Bilharzia, or schistosomiasis, is a debilitating and eventually fatal illness, which afflicts more than 200 million people in 74 countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Present therapies for bilharzia, and molluscicides to kill the snail-carriers of the disease, are far too expensive for the communities that need them.

In 1964 a young Ethiopian doctor, Aklilu Lemma, discovered that suds from the fruit of a common African plant, the endod or soapberry, which African women have used as soap for centuries, act as a potent molluscicide. To follow up this discovery, Lemma in 1966 established the Institute of Pathobiology in Addis Ababa University, and for the next 10 years he directed a team to carry out systematic research on endod. He was joined in this work in 1974 by Legesse Wolde-Yohannes.

The discovery seemed to offer no less than a cheap, locally-controllable means of eradicating a disease that is the second greatest scourge (after malaria) in the Third World. And Lemma’s early research confirmed this potential. Yet progress in making this endod product available to the people who need it has been extremely slow, for reasons that expose some of the biases and failings of the international medical community.

In the last few years, however, Lemma’s and Wolde-Yohannes’ persistence and the support of key scientists and donors in the West has opened the door to the necessary laboratory and field trials. An endod research and application network has also been established, linking five African countries, and the plant is being grown and used for experimental control of schistosomiasis.

Before his death in 1997, Lemma and colleagues established the Endod Foundation to serve as an umbrella for all endod-related work. Following collaboration with Lemma, the University of Toledo, USA, was granted a US patent on an endod-based molluscicide intended to control the zebra mussels which have recently invaded American lakes and caused extensive damage to water supplies. This has opened a major new hope for marketing and exporting endod as a cash crop.

Legesse Wolde-Yohannes has a doctorate in Horticultural Science from the Technical University of Hannover, Germany. He has coordinated endod research in Addis Ababa since 1980, developing methods for its extraction and application and carrying out relevant agrobotanical studies. He is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Addis Ababa University and also serves as Director of the National Endod Foundation.

Dr. Legesse Wolde-Yohannes has published several articles on endod cultivation and extraction, soil science plant nutrition and is co-author of a handbook on endod utilisation. He has organised national and international seminars and workshops on endod/bilharzia and carried out several WHO consultancy missions to Africa, USA, Canada and Europe in relation to the use of endod for schistosomiasis and zebra mussels control programmes.

For his scientific achievement, Dr. Legesse Wolde-Yohannes received the Golden Medal from the University of Oslo, Norway in 1989 and the Golden Medal and Certificate of Merit from Addis Ababa University in 2000.

Since 1999 Dr. Legesse Wolde-Yohannes is senior advisor on endod and medicinal plants to the Ethio Agri-CEFT Private Limited Company. He is involved in promoting agrobotanical studies on endod and other medicinal plants towards large-scale production and processing for local and international marketing.

 
 

FAQ about Legesse Wolde-Yohannes

Questions asked in 2005

1. What are the biases among Western scientists that make your work harder?

In the past the international scientific community was not aware of the potential uses of Endod in controlling water born diseases in tropical and subtropical regions; nor were the various agencies including WHO particularly enthusiastic about looking into the merit of this natural product.

2. What is the focus of your work today?

The focus of my work is to continue with the application of Endod use combining scientific knowledge with existing time tested practices relating to the multiple uses of Endod.

3. Are there other examples for indigenous illness prevention methods that should be much more widely applied? 

One example I can mention in this regards is the potential curative use of Artemisa annua in the treatment of Malaria patients in tropical regions. I have been involved with other colleagues in relevant research and development of this natural product through an indigenous company known as Ethio agri-CEFT PLC. in rural Ethiopia.

4. Does Endod kill none-target animals like fish?

Yes, Endod does kill fish like all other synthetic molluscidides, but Endod does not affect or kill fish eggs.

5. Is Endod safe for the environment?

Endod is a natural product, biodegradable, so Endod is environmentally safe. Endod will be disintegrated within 48 hours after affecting the target vector snails, leeches, mosquito-larvae within 24 hours.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

Since the RLA in 1989, Endod received recognition by the WHO Expert Committee (1991) on the safe use of pesticides as molluscicide for general use. The recognition was based on the development and availability of a standard extract called Endod-S from E44 by an international consortium of laboratories and results of the toxicological studies, supported among others by IDRC (Candada). The results from toxicological studies showed no mutagenicity, extremely low mammalian toxicity and modest but acceptable aquatic ecotoxicity thus paving the way for wide field application and use. It is now very well ascertained that Endod can be used in detergent formulation in the control of bilharzia transmitting snails, zebra mussels and mosquito-larvae. Endod is also of use in the control of leeches and liver fluke transmitting snails.

Publications

Abstracts of Articles

Controlling bilharzia might be as easy as growing a plant.
Wolde-Yohannes L; Esser, K.B. Semagn,K.
Agroforestry Today 1999, Vol.11,No.3/4,pp.7-9,5 ref.

Bilharzia, a chronic disease caused by a parasitic worm carried by snails, can severely damage the liver, intestines, lungs and bladder. It affects an estimated 200-300 million people in the tropics and subtropics. The disease is spreading as a result of increased development of wetlands and irrigation farming.
This article describes and discusses the potential use of the berries of endod (Phytolacca dodecandra), a molluscicidal plant, to reduce the numbers of bilharzia (schistosomiasis) carrying snails in Ethiopia.  Endod occurs wild in the highlands of Ethiopia, and the berries were formerly extensively used as a soap for washing cotton fabrics. The decline of endod soap use is thought to have led to increased bilharzia incidence in the country, and the feasibility has been investigated of reintroducing its use in snail infested locations or adding endod directly to streams through community mobilization. The plant is a semi-succulent scrambling shrub which can grow to 4 m. tall and climb to 18 m when supported; it bears fruit twice  yearly under favorable climatic conditions. Studies are currently underway to determine how endod assisted control of bilharzia can be most effective under different social and environmental conditions in Ethiopia.
A summary is given of present knowledge (from earlier studies) on endod cultivation, including collection of germplasm, proparagation (by seeds or cuttings), Planting, pest problems harvesting the berries, and preparation of extracts.

Control of schistosomiasis (bilharzia) using berries from Phytolacca dodecandra (endod)
Esser, K.B.Gundersen, S.G; Gebre-Michael, T. Wolde-Yohannes, L.
Sci.  News -NORAGRIC, 2000, No. 2, pp.1-2.

An overview of toxicological studies conducted in Ethiopia on the use of Endod berries (Phytolacca dodecandra) to kill the snail vectors of schistosomiasis, is presented. Investigations on the agronomic aspects of Endod, and the familiarity of people in Ethiopia with the plants and its various uses, are also discussed.

Medicinal use and social status of the soap berry endod (Phytolacca odecandra) in Ethiopia.
Kjell B. Essera, Kassa Semagn and Legesse Wolde-Yohannes
Journal of Ethnopharmacology,Volume 85, Issues 2-3, April 2003, Pages, 269-277

Berries from Phtytolacca dodecandra L’Herit (endod in Amharic) offer a readily available molluscicide to control schistosomiasis.  Parts of the endod plant have been used as a detergent and as traditional medicine for centuries in Ethiopia.  An interview survey was performed in the highlands of Ethiopia to provide information on the distribution of the plant, people’s traditional use of it, their perception of the plant, and the potential for increased production and use of endod as a soap for indirect control of schistosomiasis. People of all ages report that they are familiar with the plant and its detergent and medicinal uses. The plant is largely disappearing from unprotected areas due to land clearing. Younger people appear to use endod as a soap whenever it is available.  Older women prefer commercial soap and consider endod to be associated with poor people. Common medicinal uses include treatment of skin itching (ringworm), abortion, gonorrhea, leeches intestinal worms anthrax and rabies. Two thirds of the people express interest in cultivating endod for personal use if supplied with rooted cuttings. Increased cultivitation of endod and use of berries for washing might be possible if  information about schistosomiasis and its control is disseminated among people.  Preference for commercial soap and lack of land for cultivation are major obstacle for increasing the availability and use of endod.

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