Mar 2021 1st Edition

Science joins hands with African ways

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

Government is hard at work to ensure that effective, safe traditional medicines take their rightful place on the shelf alongside Western medicines. Kgopa, a petroleum jelly to treat sores, skin problems and stomach aches.

For many years, Africans have relied on traditional medicine for healing, despite the dominance of Western medication. South Africans are no different, with traditional medicines widely used in the country.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has teamed up with six traditional health practitioners to develop safe and standardised traditional medicines for commercialisation in a project funded by the Department of Science and Innovation. 

According to one of the participating health practitioners, Prince Edward Nkosiyokuthula Msomi, the project is the first step to eliminate false claims by healers and to remove the perception that this type of medicine is unclean and does not work. 

“The research project started in 2016 and the aim was to help us make our medicines ready for commercialisation, by testing the products for safety, quality and efficacy and to obtain medicinal properties,” he says.

Msomi, who has been a traditional health practitioner since 2005 and who gained much of his knowledge from his grandfather, is the owner of Prijap, one of the medicines chosen for the commercialisation programme. Prijap is a herbal liquid that has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, boosts the immune system and increases energy levels and appetite. 

The other products which were tested are Umphetha, an iced tea used for internal ulcers, blood cleansing and immune boosting; Moshumasekgwa, a tea that treats high blood pressure, diabetes and urinary problems; Lenong, a tissue oil to treat wounds and arthritis; Kgopa, a petroleum jelly to treat sores, skin problems and stomach aches; and Areka Ya Makgoma, a herbal sachet that facilitates the healing process of opportunistic infections and improves appetite. 

CSIR Senior Researcher Dr Greg Gordon confirms that although these products have historically been used by traditional health practitioners, they required improvements. 

“To ensure the safety and quality of these products, we came together with the University of Pretoria and used our scientific expertise to identify the active mixtures. We also carried out in-vitro tests to confirm the activity of the ingredients/products and then re-formulated the mixtures in consultation with the traditional health practitioners. Dermal safety studies, microbial, shelf life and stability studies of the new products also formed part of the safety and quality procedures we followed.” 

Msomi says that since participating in the programme, his brand, Prijap Biolife Biotechnologies, has grown and now houses four interns who are completing their national diploma in biotechnology.   

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