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Validating traditional medicine for modern use

Central University of Technology lecturer and researcher Dr Idah Manduna.

African indigenous medicines have throughout history received scorn, even though they are essentially the source of many boxed medicines we consume today.

According to Dr Idah Tichaidza Manduna, who is a senior researcher in the Centre for Applied Food Sustainability and Biotechnology (CAFSaB) at the Central University of Technology, Free State, historically the use of plant medicines especially, was not taken seriously in some circles because most of the

information was not written down as it was only passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation and because of the lack of scientific evidence of its efficacy.

“In fact, medicinal plants are the basis of modern drugs. For example, Aspirin was developed from the traditional use of the willow tree and many drugs used for cancer treatment are based on medicinal plants. Modern drugs evolved as people gained more understanding of the compounds found in the medicinal plants and their effects,” she asserts.

At the CAFSaB her work gives credence to traditional medicines by providing scientific justification for the use of these medicines to treat disease.

Through the involvement of scientific research and researchers such as Dr Manduna, this reputation has drastically diminished.

Dr Manduna admits that she is proud advocate for indigenous medicines and vegetables.

She says these resources have been used by our people for generations and are part of our heritage.

The mother and wife started her career as Cuba-trained Biology teacher but later decided to focus on Botany and obtained an MSc in Botany (University of Fort Hare South Africa) and DSc in Botany from Colegio de Postgraduados (COLPOS, Mexico).

She has worked as a lecturer at Walter Sisulu University.

The impact of her work has created enough common knowledge that now sees more people packaging indigenous plants and creating a market for them.

“I am proud that people have realised the economic value of indigenous plants.”

However, I have a number of concerns about this trend. The knowledge holders, the custodians of the knowledge or the resources do not always benefit from the boom in marketing of medicinal plants.



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Editor's note

American novelist Louisa May Alcott said it best when she said “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

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