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Pills, Patients and Profits
Hoodia cactus. Sunset in the Kalahari sunset where the cactus grows. Nigel Wrench interviews Petrus Vaalbooi a San elder about the properties of the cactus.



In a diner in New York City, Nigel is served a calorie busting burger and fries. In the United States, big portions and big people are common. It is estimated that 60 million Americans are overweight. There is a huge market for a drug that could help fight obesity, which some say is a disease of the west.

Thousands of miles away a small cactus in the South African Kalahari Desert could hold the key. The indigenous San people who live here have used Hoodia Gordoni for centuries as an appetite suppressant. Nigel journeys into the desert to find the cactus and experience its bitter taste.

Who should get the profits?

This scruffy little plant could be the first step to a billion dollar drug. But who should be awarded the profit – the researchers or the people who knew about the plant’s unique properties centuries ago?

Nigel also challenges a woman who is believed to be selling "diet pills" made from Hoodia illegally and asks her if she is a "biopirate".

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