The South African Health Minister says that the use of African traditional medicines may eventually replace anti-retrovirals in the treatment of HIV and Aids.
Aids drugs have long been accused of being worse than the disease, their highly toxic shotgun approach kills cells pretty much indiscriminately. The host often dies before the disease.
A less damaging approach to healing, strengthening the natural defences of those affected, would certainly be welcome.
Minister urges of traditional medicines
February 16, 2004
By Nazma Dreyer
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has suggested that the use of African traditional medicines may eventually replace anti-retrovirals in the treatment of HIV and Aids.
She also stressed that traditional medicine should not be integrated into western medicine, as it was a science "in its own right".
The minister was speaking at the Medical Research Council (MRC) to traditional healers and community members at the launch of the National Reference Centre for African Traditional Medicine (NRCATM) in the Western Cape on Sunday.
Sunday's provincial launch follows the national launch in August of the NRCATM in Pretoria.
'We can't ignore their immense contribution'
Tshabalala-Msimang said the provincial launches were aimed at helping the Department of Health to reach stakeholders throughout the country.
"Our primary objective is to establish a burgeoning centre of excellence that advances the contribution of African traditional medicines by addressing the health and economic needs of this country and the continent."
Tshabalala-Msimang said current estimates suggested that more than 60 percent of the world's population relied on traditional medicines, and in South Africa, this figure was over 80 percent.
"For the first time in our history, the potential of traditional medicines is being recognised and they are taking their rightful place in our health system."
The minister said there were 200 000 traditional healers in South Africa and they were the first healthcare providers to be consulted in up to 80 percent of cases, especially in rural areas.
"I hope all of them are genuine. We can't ignore their immense contribution in primary healthcare over the centuries," she said.
The centre would also provide potential for trade, job creation and poverty alleviation.
It would establish an information system on African traditional medicines; research medicinal plants; identify education and training on traditional medicines; protect indigenous knowledge through patents and intellectual property rights; promote research into diseases; and establish a processing business.
The centre is led by the Department of Health, the MRC and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and will be used by traditional healers, the government, regulatory authorities, scientists, medical professionals, conservation authorities, communities and businesses.
The head of indigenous knowledge systems of health at the MRC, Gilbert Matsabisa, said solutions to the treatment of HIV and Aids could come from trees and plants.
* This article was originally published on page 3 of The Star on February 16,
Aids pressure groups have said they will battle the move away from pharmaceutical drugs to natural methods, according to a recent BBC article.