Traditional medicine should be embraced

14 July 2011 - 13:33 By Sapa
Muti sellers at Faraday Station in Johannesburg.
Muti sellers at Faraday Station in Johannesburg.

Traditional medicine needs to be embraced so that it finds expression through combating diseases, says the department of science and technology.

"If it is to play a strategic role in combating the heavy burden of disease, it will need to be mainstreamed so that it can benefit from advances in the other sciences," said director general Molapo Qhobela.

He was speaking at an African traditional medicine and intellectual property workshop held in Pretoria.

Qhobela said South Africa should learn from China and India, which had effectively integrated traditional medicine into their health systems.

He further emphasised the need to preserve African medicine.

"One way of securing the future of indigenous knowledge and research on traditional medicine is the advancement and refinement of regulatory regimes," he said.

The drafting of ethical guidelines for researchers and research institutions had already been completed.

The department planned to conduct research on medicinal plants, a move which the Traditional Healers Organisation wanted to involve traditional healers themselves.

Its spokeswoman Phephisile Maseko said while the organisation was not objecting to research, healers believed that leaving government to do research on its own, and excluding them, would undermine their own work done so far.

She highlighted that 72 percent of South Africans made use of traditional medicines, adding that Christianity and the media were the ones who had demonised traditional medicines.

Of the known plant species in the country, 3000 of them have medicinal potential.

Maseko said it pained her that traditional medicines had for a number of years been exploited by big conglomerates.

She said healers were interacting with government to ensure that never happened again.

"Traditional healers should benefit," she said.