African and Traditional Medicine and the Law

Over 80% of South Africans prefer herbs to Big Pharma

Take a look at the ethnopharmacological potential of South Africa

A 1996 survey  in South Africa indicated that over 80% of the indigenous African population use traditional medicine for self medication. This includes an annual consumption of over 1000 tons of plant material harvested from at least 3000 species. That translates as a financial annual turnover in excess of  US$ 6 billion! However, that is peanuts in comparison to the income generated by Big Pharma from selling dodgy chemicals with nasty side effects. The difference is that the "green"medicine is not yet fully under their control. To the orthodox governing bodies this means that some of our popular local herbal remedies need to be removed from the shelves. Would this mean that our local herbs are not as financially lucrative as scheduled drugs, despite their excellent track record and evidence based efficacy?
 
Bantu hut KirstenboschCredit: Sue Visser
 
America and Europe are already familiar with restraints on herbal medicines
 
Limitations have now been imposed on the sale of plant-based or "natural" remedies and food supplements in South Africa. Our friends in America and Europe are not surprised because they have also experienced the demise of their favourite herbal remedies as well as dedicated health shops. Money talks and now traditional African herbal medicine is under the spotlight. It could offer a big boost to the income of the Big Pharma shareholders. The selling potential of "patent" drugs that can be derived from our indigenous plant material is too lucrative to be ignored. But our indigenous population seem to be exempt from these laws providing they pick their own plants and take them as they have done, for hundreds if not thousands of years.
 
African herbsCredit: Sue Visser
 
What drives this impetus to usurp the role of natural medicine is the recent gap in the orthodox materia medica that has been created by drug-resistant bacterial and viral infections. Their expensive vaccinations have gone belly up because they have failed to decrease the incidence of many common infections. In fact, they have exacerbated the untoward effects of similar strains that develop as a reaction to so-called immunisation in many well documented cases. They also weaken the recipient by introducing toxins such as mercury. Credibility wears thin when young girls are vaccinated against the papilloma virus in the hopes of preventing cancer and end up with severe mental disorders. Autism too, has a sinister causative link to vaccines. Big money, big business and it's legal!
 
They still sell antibiotics to treat viral infections - why?
 
Even if the vaccines are known to be ineffective, Big Pharma sells them anyway. (We get the harmful, if not fatal side effects as part of the deal.) This same medical discipline is now bullying purveyors of natural alternatives that boost the immune system and thus help to prevent diseases like cancer and even the common cold.They can bully all they like but fresh ginger makes a mockery of the whole charade. A new microbial study was undertaken to detail the antimicrobial effects of fresh versus dry ginger. It was only the fresh ginger that knocked out viruses and mycotoxins that are responsible for upper respiratory tract infections - not the dry version.
Herbal medicine chestCredit: Sue Visser
However, both forms of ginger were effective for blood thinning, inflammation and nausea. Even in small quantities ginger can be used as an alternative to modified rat poison and other legal "pharmaceutical" toxins. But ginger capsules may be removed from the pharmacy shelves if manufacturers fail to do laboratory tests and register ginger capsules as medicines. Money talks, they say. But why should South Africans have to buy their way in and merge with Big Pharma to sell safer alternatives to what are sometimes dangerous drugs with adverse side effects. Would the herbal competitors also be allowed to skewer the lab trials like the existing drug companies?
 
Two wrongs don't make a right but why ignore monographs?
Although some herbalists are downright unorthodox and seemingly dangerous this is not the case with respectable, time-honoured manufacturers of reasonably priced herbs and supplements. All are obliged to follow act 101 of 1965 which does not allow the use of misleading claims in the first place. If antibiotics cannot treat the common cold and if vaccines can't prevent them, why are they being used as if they do? Why can't alternative natural remedies or supplements do the job without being accused of breaking the law? Why be forced to do trials that you can cheat your way through when there is plenty of factual information available in the form of plant materia medica or monographs. But no, the powers that be (parliament under the thumb of Big Pharma) refuse to accept internationally validated monographs. (A monograph is like a package insert for a plant to show effects, components, side effects, contra idications and overdosing precautions.)
 
It is futile to treat mould and viral infections with antibiotics. But most doctors have a cunning way of prescribing antibiotics to desperate patients who have the flu - just in case. The scariest thing they do is instruct the patient to finish the course, to use up all the antibiotics. Wow! Anybody who knows about the importance of gut flora will know that causes a wipe out of beneficial bacteria in the intestines that makes up 80% of the immune function. So, if you get the sniffles, go get a prescription for antibiotics so you can nullify 80% of your immunity. The next thing you do is eat food that causes inflammation and makes your joints ache and the prescribed cortisone will deactivate the rest of the immune system. Now you can open the door to cancer and go back to the nice little man in the white jacket.
 
Why don't we want to take responsibility or at least ask questions?
 
The most shocking aspect of this tyranny is that we, the public are so trusting. Anything that comes from a person wearing a white jacket with a stethoscope slung over the shoulder is to be obeyed and worst of all, believed without question. Thanks to the internet the veil of mystery has been lifted and we can read the shocking truth about how a lot of "orthodox" mainstream medical research is undertaken. How they skewer the outcome of trials and hide the adverse reactions and fabricate the benefits of the drugs that are sold with a scheduling status. You can cheat and lie and buy the evidence according to what sounds acceptable on a package insert. Do South African manufacturers of complementary or integrated medicines have to stoop so low?
Make plant remediesCredit: Sue Visser
But time is the best judge of such dishonest practice. The safety trials in particular are questionable and statistics show how many millions of patients die annually from these medications, especially when administered incorrectly. The result? Many drugs have been withdrawn from the shelves because of their untoward effects. Vioxx, a popular anti-inflammatory drug is a recent example. Herein lies the bitter irony of what we call natural medicine being withdrawn from the shelves even if proven to be a harmless spice.
 
Herbal medicine is a local South African tradition, part of a healing ritual
 
In our country the herbal resources provide a valuable income for the rural or financially compromised population. Socioeconomic factors such as an increasing population, unemployment and the high value of these plant species have justified the need for encouraging the herb trade that affects:
  • Traditional medicinal practitioners, called "sangomas or inyengas"
  • The informal and formal entrepreneurial sectors of the South African economy
  • The herbal gatherers and street traders
However, it is not the low cost or affordability of plants used for medicine that is as important as the tradition. Tradition is what cuts across the income spectrum of the indigenous African population and they prefer to use what pleases their ancestors the most. To them healing is multi-faceted and involves emotional as well as abstract (ancestral) factors. The medicine that grows in the ground and is harvested after ritualistic prayers and used for their recovery is a far cry from a bottle of free pills from the hospital. Big Pharma has no respect for tradition and this is what is upsetting a lot of black South Africans. They ask the plant for permission before they pick it and use it for medicine. This pleases their ancestors.
 
Love and respectCredit: Sue VisserThis time honoured method has been effective for treating common ailments within a community and at Kirstenbosch there is a herbal garden with exhibits of plants that have been used for many generations to treat colds and flu, fevers, blood sugar disorders, toxicity, skin problems, digestion upsets and parasites. We also use these herbs, but within the limits of "Good Manufacturing Practice". Our workers wear white masks and gloves and pack the remedies in sterile containers so that the urbanised black population can be catered for with what boils down to traditional medicine. A favourite use of any herbal tincture, for them is "to clean the blood." If it tastes bitter and terrible - all the better!
 
Select herbs from Kirstenbosch and other nearby botanical gardens have been used to compile an African materia medica and a set of monographs based on laboratory testing, studies, trials and clinical investigations. A task force at the University of the Western Cape has dedicated their resources to South African ethnopharmacology. Their renewed interest in plant based medicines seems to be part of the need for novel drug development because research and development programmes of leading pharmaceutical companies failed make any headway, it seems.

African Monographs are available they are approved by WHO

80% of the black South Africans regularly use traditional medicines, most of which are derived from plant species indigenous to their region. These may be obtained on prescription from a traditional healer, purchased from herb sellers or gathered in the wild for self medicine. If this has been going on for many generations without offensive of fatal side effects then why make waves? But it is not fair to harvest plants to the point that a number of species have already become extinct. Here one needs to encourage the propagation of medicinal plants, as in the case of the company that sponsored the TV series in 2007 called "Nature's Health." I took part in a number the shows and shudder to think that the bottles of herbs they sell to Africans to both generate an income as well as serve the population would now be regarded as illegal.

Traditional meds on displayCredit: Sue Visser
But any medicine of variable potency and/or poor batch to batch consistency are unacceptable under any conditions, even our current GMP standards. The goal of the monograph project is to protect those who use traditional medicines as patients, prescribers, pharmacists, manufacturers, health authorities or regulatory bodies against products of poor quality. The selected 100 traditional medicines need to comply with standards which define their identity, purity and potency. Formalizing the use of traditional medicines in primary health care has been endorsed by the WHO and a book is now available for practitioners and manufacturers and the retail trade.  One wonders why the existing minister of health is rejecting the use of these monograms?
 
These monographs will provide South Africa with its own much needed  pharmacopoeia - a medical hand book that has an official status. Why then, are individual health product manufacturers being bullied into financing these studies all over again? We do not need dozens of studies on a single plant - leave it to the experts: The laboratories at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) are equipped to carry out the procedures involving the botany, chemistry, microbiology and pharmacology. The Departments of Botany, Chemistry and Microbiology at UWC and the Peninsula Technikon have also contributed to these critical studies,
ArtemisiaCredit: Sue Visser
 
The quantity of medicinally active principles present in these herbal remedies may vary genetically, seasonally, geographically, or according to the mode of preparation (collection, drying and storage)." This is why we, as manufacturers of herbal products need to comply with GMP standards. Our herbal remedies are accompanied by certificates of origin that supply all these details. Batch numbers are recorded and labels show what the products contain. Functionality is indicated as suggested usage according to information provided by the standard monographs that are used as part of the international and now recently - South African pharmacopeia. All this however, according to our local government, is insufficient and downright unacceptable.They would rather leave their people in the lurch than offer any help.
A traditional herbalistCredit: Sue VisserTraditional herbs in a bottleCredit: Sue Visser

Why restrict Traditional African Herbal practice?

How can herbal medicine help to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria?

Drug-resistant infections cause serious health hazards: Streptococcus pneumonia, which causes pneumonia, childhood ear infections and meningitis; Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes TB; and Neisseria gonorrhoea, which causes gonorrhea. Some of these microbes survive a round of antibiotics - adapt to them and pass this ability on to their offspring.

Meanwhile residues of these patent drugs contaminate our food supply and drinking water so we and even our pets ingest trace amounts of antibiotics and other prescription drugs on a daily basis. The quantities may be small, but researchers say this is what causes the ever increasing drug resistance to common bacteria. In his latest books on herbal alternatives to antibiotics and antivirals, author Stephen Harrod Buhner provides in-depth profiles valuable herbs that have antibiotic properties and offers guidance as to their dosage, potential side effects and contra indications. Here then, is soe valuable self-empowerment. You may not be able to buy the herbs in a health shop, but at least you can read about them. These herbal formulations can strengthen the immune system and treat viral infections such as SARS, influenza, and encephalitis. They are based on European monographs.

Patent drugs screw up on mold infections but we have "illegal" alternatives

As we know, mainstream drugs like cortisone, anti inflammatories and antibiotics all lower - if not seriously inactivate our immune functions. So then after taking these medications (all legal scheduled, prescribed drugs - with package inserts) patients with a weak or compromised immune system have a greater risk of becoming very ill or possibly dying from an opportunistic mold infection (aflatoxins), let alone from cancer or HIV. A variety of antifungal medications including: voriconazole, liposomal amphotericin B, posaconazole, itraconazole, caspofungin, or micafungin can be used. Unfortunately, these antifungal medications can produce undesirable side effects like fever, rigors, chills, myalgia, arthralgia, bronchospasm, nausea, vomiting, headaches, hallucinations, kidney toxicity, and liver toxicity. Well done, Big Pharma! Why not take a look at what grows on trees? Olive leaves, for instance, are fantastic green bullets!

wild harvesting olive leavesCredit: Sue VisserOLive leaf remediesCredit: Sue Visser


Here too, we see the shortcomings of modern mainstream medications, however legal they have become. They are not the magical silver bullets they claim to be. They are not even accompanied with healthy eating guidelines in order to substantite their claims. It is strange that the prescriptions are sold in retail outlets where the tills are crowded out with racks of sweets, fizzy drinks and potato crisps drenched in trans-fattly acids. All legal, of course. If vitamin C is to be restricted to minimal doses and kitchen spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are to become registered as medicines if we use their oil to kill moulds, what then? We unleash a host of mycotoxins into an already overcrowded environment. They are then left to compete against mercury, parasites and synthetic hormones and fluoride for a new home in a future human or animal host. The show must go on!

Olive leaves - throughout Africa for free medicine?

The little book on Olive Leaf Extract by Morton Walker (New York: Kensington Books, 1997) is what first drew my attention theuse of antimicrobial herbs. His research indicates that olive leaf extract (or the leaves)  is effective against over a hundred diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds mycotoxins and other parasites, including tapeworms. There are no nasty side effects - only extra advantages. Olive leaf remedies improve circulatory health and may help prevent heart attacks by improving heart function, lowering high blood pressure and preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. The extract has been used to heal peptic ulcers, hiatus hernia, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other illnesses.

Olive leaf remedies are now popular and freely available to South Africans. But if they were suddenly removed from the shelves there would still be olive leaves available - providing we are allowed to keep our olive trees. In South Africa we have a sub-species of the Olea Europa tree, Called Olea Afra. We have been producing remedies from this species as well as a number of other species of wild African olive leaves. But it is always thrilling to see these natural sources of medicine growing in Africa - from Cape to Cairo. On our travels we teach people how to use the leaves in places like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Egypt. Each country provides plant medicines that are particularly valuable for the people who live in the same habitat. My husband was cured of malaria and all we used were olive leaf tablets. Malaria is the primary killer of small children in Africa.

Sesuvium Portulacastrum knocks out drug resistant bacteria!

This succulent plant with tiny pink flowers thrives in salty marshes and wastelands - there for the picking. Yet another drug cabinet under our feet. It grows like a carpet next to some beaches and is a potent antimicrobial herb, due to its need to survive in a soggy damp, salty habitat. Essential oils from special glands in the leaves are the key weapons that attack moulds, fungi and bacteria. Laboratory tests showed activity against Candida albicans, Aspergillusniger, Aspergillus favus and Penicillium notatum, Acetobacter calcoacetica, Bacillus subtillis, Clostridiumsporogenes, Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhii, Staphylococcus aureus and Yersinia enterocolitica. Take another look at that list and you will note that most of our modern pharmaceutical drugs are no longer effective against a number of these infections. The ability of stapylococcus aureus to baffle our most advanced drug researchers shows that microbes are a lot  smarter than we are - they can adapt and come back to fight another day. But evidently they are no match for herbal medicine.

  We can fight against pathogenic microbes -

with plant wisdom or with pharmaceuticals

With the debate about CAMS (Complimentary and Alternative Medicines) raging in South Africa I realise that we do have a common enemy - microbes against man. Let us use the best of what is in the medicine cabinet at the time and not be too biased when a person's health is at risk. Give them the best medicine we can find to do the best job and help the patient to right the wrongs that caused the illness in the first place. Then teach them how to get well and stay well.

Green forest walkCredit: Sue VisserAs Hippocrates once said:"First do no harm." (Today we need to read the package insert to see what harm the medicine does.)

Do we take our

medicine with

a spoonful of sugar

or a pinch of salt?

South Africa has its own monographs

The herbs have already been tested - why more tests?

African Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AfrHP): First Edition
Amazon Price: $125.00 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 19, 2016)
This is what we have been waiting for!

Plants have antiviral activity

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Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections
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