Traditional medicine and healers

Absence of screening centers for medicinal and nutritional plants used locally has propelled Dr Daniel Motlhanka, a senior lecturer at the Botswana College of Agriculture to channel his research knowledge towards establishing a screening centre for such plants as well as nutritional food plants by 2014.
Motlhanka is a pharmacognosist by training and it was this research topic that secured him a place at the Leadership Development Fellowship, a World Health Organisation (WHO) programme.
He received a grant of $41,100 (approximately P246,600) aimed at enhancing his leadership skills for better research in this field.

"The three-year Leadership Development Programme is part of the WHO Tropical Disease Research's (TDR) empowerment strategy to build leadership capacity at individual, institutional and national levels.

The aim is to help disease endemic countries take more of a lead in national and international health research activities which have a direct impact on the infectious diseases of poverty," reads the TDR website.

"Presently our traditional medicinal plants are consumed without extraction of active ingredients that can achieve a desired impact," Motlhanka said.

This, he said is not good as every composition of the medicinal plant is consumed which could lead to some ingredients having side effects or suppressing the active ingredient from achieving the desired impact.

Another critical issue that the proposed centre aims to address is the quantification of traditional medicinal plants, through the use of standard protocols. The centre will also look at the effects of incorporating traditional medicine in the formal health care sector.

Motlhanka expressed concern that in Botswana people resort to taking clinical and traditional medicines simultaneously, a practice he said presents two possibilities; either the former makes the clinical medicine work better or it inhabits the activity of the clinical drug.
He revealed that at present, an approximate 80% of the country's population uses traditional medicinal plants; which are not screened and even quantified.
The proposed screening centre will look into screening of traditional medicines and food plants so as to extract the active ingredients (for medicinal plants) and the required nutritional amount from food plants.

Asked about the prospects of the centre packaging the medicines and food plants, he said the plan is to work towards this with already existing packaging companies such as Kgetsi ya Tsie and National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC).
"It will be a bank of traditional medicinal plants, we will ultimately do packaging," he said.
Motlhanka, an avid researcher in the field of local traditional medicinal plants and foods said it takes a collaborative effort with most importantly traditional healers themselves, various ministries like health science technology, the department of forestry and range management as well as a solid legal framework to ensure that these untapped natural resources benefit the country as well as Africa as a whole.

"It is an eyesore that Western researchers have benefited from our indigenous knowledge and our people didn't get anything in return," he said.
He stresses the importance of reinforcing community rights and intellectual property rights through the right legal channels.

Motlhanka is a member of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) and the Society of Economic Botany of the USA. The Botswana College of Agriculture Research Publication Committee has extensively supported his research work in this particular field.
Traditional herbal medicines, many of which have been used for centuries, are emerging now into the focus of modern medical treatment.

Hoodia, devil's claw and many more are examples of medicinal plants found in Africa whose medicinal benefits were uncovered ages ago by the forefathers of this continent.
Take for instance hoodia; a succulent plant that was traditionally used by the San peoples of Southern Africa as an appetite suppressant, thirst quencher and cure for abdominal cramps, haemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion, hypertension and diabetes among other uses.
Today, the active ingredient is used in diet pills for purposes of slimming.

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