Progress for traditional medicine in disease-fighting arsenal.

Progress for traditional medicine in disease-fighting arsenal.

Progress for traditional medicine in disease-fighting arsenal.
Photo: iStock

Researchers are edging closer to using traditional medicines in the fight against disease, in line with the Department of Health's goal to register these with the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA), and with Free State University, for instance, having already reached the clinical trial stage for indigenous medicine for long-term Covid-19 and TB.

Around the country, a consortium of scientists at universities and in government departments has been working in laboratories alongside traditional healers to find evidence that these medicines and herbs can treat diseases, and to make them accessible at pharmacies and traditional herbalists with scientific evidence to support their efficacy.

Professor Sithembiso Shabalala – a traditional healer and lecturer at the Mhlabulangene School of African Medicine who served as a member of the former Traditional Health Practitioners Council established by the national DoH – specialises in treating epilepsy through uhlunguhlungu, scientifically known as gymnanthemum corymbosum, which he can cure epilepsy, according to his findings, told TimesLIVE.

Then there’s Ugobo, (gunnera perpensa), a plant which can also increase fertility in women, he said.

“The purpose of the research is to prove it works,” he said, adding that while traditional healers refer patients to traditional herbalists for medicine, some products are available in Western pharmacies as supplements.

Already on the market is Niselo, a ready-to-drink, high-fibre probiotic made of sorghum, which helps with gut health and digestion and boosts energy.

Professor David Katerere, from Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) research and development platform said the product, manufactured at the university, was already being sold to students and taxi drivers.

“It was funded by the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences and the government and for taxi drivers, particularly, it is recommended because their nutrition is not good, and they sit all the time, often having gut health problems.”

The product is also distributed to mines to boost mineworkers’ energy and immune systems, Katerere said.

At UFS, Professor Motlalepula Matsabisa said what had started as research on African medicine for HIV turned into a solution to treat TB caused by Covid-19 infection.

“We are not looking at multi-drug resistant TB but at normal TB,” he said.

“We have completed the clinical trial protocol and are looking at 500 patients. We got ethics approval from the South African Medical Association’s ethics committee and we are busy finalising our submissions to SAHPRA for final approval.”

Once approval is granted, a TB or long Covid-19 patient can take four 350ml capsules of 100% herbal medicine, two in the morning and two at night.

“We want people to be able to walk into a chemist and buy them, or have the medication prescribed to them at a hospital,” he said.

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