Indigenous Pharmacopoeia – Eastern Medicine vs Western Business

Societies are desperate to discover a cure for deadly Covid-19. In Southeast Asia, governments scramble to contain the health and economic fallout, trying a range of top-down biomedical measures, including testing and physical distancing.

Some leaders and citizens also endorse unproven and non-biomedical tactics and practices to manage their own experiences with the global pandemic. While these non-biomedical practices have roots in the region’s rich history with indigenous cultures and traditional medicines, the internet gives such treatments new life as part of the region’s evolving health information ecology, explains Dang Nguyen, a 2019-20 International Fox Fellow at Yale University. She advises public health experts to resist dismissing traditional treatments out of hand as misinformation or falsehoods and instead try thoughtful engagement. For now, there is no safe, effective treatment for Covid-19. – YaleGlobal


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COVID 19 has brought into question for many the validity of the using traditional medicinal practices to cure that deadly coronavirus. Prior to the coronavirus COVID 19 outbreak, the African Heritage Foundation (AHF) made representation for the inclusion of the traditional use of the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes, as the government rolled out its Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill. These offerings of the AHF fell on deaf ears.

Not to long ago Papya leaf teas were being touted as a proven remedy against Zika in Barbados. More than a few were the accounts of people who said they were greatly assisted by that traditional medicinal remedy.


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As it pertains on COVID 19, such claims fly in the face of warnings from mainstream scientists, who say there is no known cure for coronavirus and urge rigorous testing to prove the effectiveness — and safety — of the proposed traditional cures. This is all well and good, but with all the scientifically proven medicine offered, the world to date has recorded 3,084,410 cases of the virus and 931,836 related deaths. Yet, those urging vigilance against traditional medicinal cures for the virus include the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which says: “There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.


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With a conventional cure still elusive, and fears pervasive, African herbalists are keen to fill the void.

In the DRC ( Democratic Republic of the Congo ), Gabriel Nsombila, is running adverts on a local radio station. “Inhaling the vapour of a mixture of mango tree bark, papaya leaves, ginger and a plant whose name I will keep secret is a certain cure for people suffering from coronavirus,” Nsombila told the local media in his country.

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In Cameroon, naturopathic doctor Anselme Kouam said a simple infusion of garlic or ginger, with some mint extract boiled in water, then poured into a bowl, would do the trick. “Lower your head closer to the bowl, cover it with a blanket and inhale. It clears the airways and it’s effective against this virus,” he said, but admitted that he had yet to administer this to a coronavirus patient.

Some of the touted remedies have reportedly been proven fatal. The UN Radio Okapi reported last month that three children in DRC died after their mother administered a medicinal plant believed to prevent contamination by the virus.

Despite such reports, the deaths attributed to COVID 19 are constantly climbing and traditional practitioners say they have something useful to offer in the fight against coronavirus. Stick a pin, let us recall French scientist in Africa testing unproven vaccines for the virus, and the history of such testing in Africa and among African descended people globally. Do you think it unfair in the light of all that is transpiring to give Traditional Medicine a seat at the table of those seeking effect cures for the virus?

Complaints are rising their heads as practitioners of Traditional Medicine , say they are being marginalized by health officials trained in Western medicine.

The Agence-France Press (AFP) recently reported that in South Africa, herbalist Makelani Bantu claims he makes a cure-it-all fruit-and-vegetable juice. But, he says, the authorities have yet to respond to his offer to validate it by giving it to patients. “We are not even given a chance to say something,” he told AFP by phone from his home in Pretoria. “We are raising hands to say, ‘guys we have something better,’… (but) there is no one who is listening to us. “There is no solution for COVID-19. Our own natural way of healing should be tried.”


Sorel Eta, a Congolese ethnologist, said the knowledge of indigenous Pygmies could be precious. “They have always treated diseases with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. It’s time to go and consider indigenous pharmacopoeia, because it is very rich. Let’s not overlook them,” Eta said.

In Benin, traditional healer and voodoo high priest Bokonon Azonyihoues and his colleagues are hard at work — researching. “We don’t make any noise about it, but given the powerlessness of modern medicine, the solution could come from traditional therapists. We are working on it,” he told AFP.

He went on to say, “Chloroquine has been mentioned” as a potential medicine for coronavirus, he said, referring to a veteran anti-malaria drug. “But… we have plants that are 10 times more effective than chloroquine in treating malaria.”

Do you think the government of Barbados should be more inclusive of the role of Traditional Medicine in the fight against COVID 19?

African Heritage Foundation.

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