Sunday Times, 06 October 2002, HIV study looks to traditional muti Brett Horner

A bold new plan involving traditional medicine in the treatment of HIV/Aids is being explored by the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in Durban.

The objective of the project is to identify safe and effective therapies in the fight against the disease, looking specifically at indigenous plants used in traditional South African medicine.

The initiative is being closely followed by the US National Institutes of Health - an agency of the US Department of Health.

Medical scientist Dr Nceba Gqaleni, from the medical school's African Health Care Systems division, confirmed this week that the US institute was studying a proposal by the school for a grant to research the use of traditional medicine in the treatment of HIV/Aids.

Gqaleni said the aim was to develop a traditional system to manage the disease holistically. "We are not only looking for substitutes for antiretrovirals but also medicines to combat opportunistic infections associated with the disease."

He also said the project involved resurrecting staple foods like sorghum, which were highly nutritious and ideal for patients, but were no longer being cultivated.

Dr Jonathan Kagan, deputy director of the Aids division at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a department of the NIH, confirmed that preliminary discussions for funding were under way.

"The NIH is interested in funding quality research to investigate complementary and alternative approaches to HIV/Aids treatment and prevention. This could include investigations of traditional healing methods," said Kagan, who visited the school in July.
"Overall, I was very impressed with the quality and depth of the ongoing and planned studies. Most of my discussions were about 'traditional' HIV/Aids research."

Sangomas and inyangas from Mwelela Kweliphesheya, a development arm of KwaZulu-Natal Indigenous Healers, would provide information about the flora used in traditional muti.

The US institute noted that "many HIV-infected people of colour utilise complementary and alternative medicines". Gqaleni said local research supported this, with studies revealing that most people had visited a traditional healer before consulting a medical doctor.