Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i


By Johnety Jerette

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (January 17, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce has suggested to the government that an urgent meeting be convened Friday to discuss the growing kava export crisis.

The chamber said Vanuatu's lucrative kava export industry faces extreme difficulties because of kava health products allegedly being linked to liver problems.

Chamber general manager John Aruhuri said although this link has yet to be scientifically proven the country's exports to European pharmaceutical companies are virtually at a standstill.

Mr. Aruhuri said talking and writing letters alone will not solve the problem.

Reports from Europe say consumption of kava products has been linked to hepatitis and caused a need for liver transplants in some people. Germany and Swiss health authorities said they had recorded about 30 cases of hepatitis among people who had taken kava-based products.

Kava is extracted from the root of a species of pepper plant called Piper methysticum, which thrives in the Pacific Islands.

While kava is a traditional and social drink in the Pacific Islands, in Europe and North America kava products are produced and sold to relieve stress and anxiety.

Earlier the Vanuatu government released a statement saying the problem is not with the kava but with the solvents the drug companies are using in their manufacturing process.

The statement was supported by a local kava expert, Vincent Lebot, who called for medical research to be conducted to prove whether or not the consumption of kava is life threatening.

The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce said the situation is very serious and could become very damaging.

But Mr. Aruhuri said to date the government's input into the kava industry has been very minimal.

Fiji kava export industry leaders have also urged their government to conduct a study to show kava is safe.

There have been similar calls for scientific studies in Hawai'i, which also has a kava export industry.

In Europe, nearly 50 pharmaceutical companies using kava have appealed a preliminary German decision to ban the sale of kava products, except those containing only minute amounts.

The European pharmaceutical companies appealing the ban said there is no evidence to link kava to cases of liver problems.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)

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