Many people in African still die of diseases which can be treated using African herbal medicine.
Clovis Kabaseke, a horticulture expert in Fort Portal town in western Uganda says that among the herbals that people have been using is for inflammation, fever and Malaria treatment.
Kabaseke says that Artemisia annua has traditionally been used in many herbal remedies such as a bitter, a febrifuge, as an anti-malarial and as an antibiotic.
He explains that traditional African medicine is a holistic discipline involving extensive use of indigenous herbalism combined with aspects of African spirituality.
“Traditional medicinal remedies are made from the leaves. This anemophilous species has only a light pollen count during hay fever season,” he noted.
Hay fever season usually happens in from July to November in Kabarole district, western Uganda according to Kabaseke.
Artemisinin is a plant natural product produced by Artemisia annua and the active ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria.
“Efforts to eradicate malaria are increasing demand for an affordable, high-quality, robust supply of artemisinin. We performed deep sequencing on the transcriptome of A. annua to identify genes and markers for fast-track breeding. Extensive genetic variation enabled us to build a detailed genetic map with nine linkage groups,” he said.
Kabaseke explains that replicated field trials resulted in a quantitative trait loci (QTL) map that accounts for a significant amount of the variation in key traits controlling artemisinin yield.
He said that enrichment for positive QTLs in parents of new high-yielding hybrids confirms that the knowledge and tools to convert A. annua into a robust crop are now available
“The genetic map now makes it possible to speed up plant breeding of Artemisia; rapidly developing it into a high-yielding crop. This breakthrough is crucial if we want to meet the ever-growing demand for effective malaria treatments,” he said.
Malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, is still responsible for an estimated nearly one million deaths every year globally.
Artemisinin is extracted from the plant Artemisia annua; however, yields so far have been low, making the product expensive. Planting areas have declines because Artemisia production has been uneconomic. This drop has raised fears of shortages.
Despite numerous attempts at government interference, this ancient system of healing continues to thrive in Africa and practitioners can be found in many other parts of the world.
Under colonial rule, many nations considered traditional diviner-healers to be practitioners of witchcraft and outlawed them for that reason.
In some areas of colonial Africa, attempts were also made to control the sale of traditional herbal medicines.
He said that the Mountains of the Moon University are also doing a study to assess the use of traditional herbal medicine by AIDS patients in Kabarole District, western Uganda.
He said that they enrolled 137 AIDS patients selected from outpatient departments of three hospitals and interviewed them.
Kabaseke said that they wanted to find out the frequency of herbal medicine intake, concomitant herb–pharmaceutical drug use (including herb–antiretroviral drug co-therapy), and the perceived effectiveness of herbal medicine. Overall, 63.5% of AIDS patients had used herbal medicine after HIV diagnosis.
“Patterns of traditional herbal medicine use were quite similar between those on antiretroviral therapy and those who received supportive therapy only,” he said.
He added: “I’m not an expert in herbal medicine but it works perfectly well. I agree that it needs to be run along with conventional medicine”.
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 80 percent of people still rely on herbal remedies for their health care.
Yayeri Mugenyi a HIV patient from Buhesi in Kabarole district said that many people resort to using herbs as a result of poverty.
Mugenyi says that the high cost of drugs in clinics and pharmacies, drug resistance which often lead to treatment failure, prolong and expensive treatment are some of the reasons that pushes lower income people to use herbs.
“Herbs have fewer side effects compared to conventional medicine and it is cheap. Why should I go for an expensive drug which will as well give me terrible side effects? Mugenyi asked.
If herbal medicine was not in Uganda, so many Ugandans will be dead by one. Trust me on this. Grace Kabasita, a traditional birth attendant and a resident of Kaburasoke in Kamwenge remarked.
Kabasita said that she also use herbs to treat livestock diseases and uses herbs to treat expectant mothers.
“I have used some of the plants to treat diabetes, tumours, stomach pain, rheumatism,” she says.
“Personally, I love herbs because of the wide variety of diseases can be treated with a single plant. You take one for cough but you end up treating over ten diseases hidden in your system as well,” Kabasita adds.
Haji Suleiman Nyakana of Rwengoma said that he treats his family of malaria plant called alovera.
Nyakana called upon the Ugandan government to officially authorize herbalists so that they can be able to conduct their business legally.
“I want the government to put herbalists into some form of training and authorize them like the Chinese have done to improve to implement the health sector,” he said.
The study which was conducted between January 2000 and September 2003 by the Department of Botany at Makerere University documented medicinal plants used to treat fungal and bacterial infections in health care in and around Queen Elizabeth Biosphere Reserve in Bushenyi and Kasese districts in western Uganda.
However the study pointed out that some people also worry about bacterial infection that comes out of mixing herbs or saliva used by herbalists.