South Africa at the Shanghai World Exposition presentations on cosmeceuticals and African traditional medicine
27 Sep 2010
The Department of Science and Technology today hosted a seminar on cosmeceuticals, Nutraceuticals and African traditional medicine as part of the country's programme at the Shanghai World Exposition, in China.
The highlight was the presentation by Professor Nceba Gqaleni, leader of the traditional medicine programme at the Nelson R Mandela School of medicine based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Professor Gqaleni spoke about the collaboration between public health clinics and traditional health practitioners in the field of HIV and AIDS prevention, testing and care in KwaZulu-Natal.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health and eThekwini municipality have contributed to building unity among traditional health practitioners in the province, and have since successfully applied for funding to establish strategic collaboration projects.
The group works together to ensure prevention, palliative care, and referral for voluntary counselling and testing, with approximately 1 200 traditional health practitioners in three health districts trained over four years to be able to do this.
The project has an elaborate monitoring and evaluation system. It requires that traditional health practitioners keep patient records and complete a referral form; and spread strong messages about HIV prevention to their patients and communities, with the theme "through our culture and unity we can prevent HIV".
The project has developed multimedia HIV prevention messages that are distributed as public service announcements.
Since 2005, more than 62 000 patients have consulted the practitioners for the first time, and there have possibly been five times as many follow-up consultations.
Ten percent have been referred for voluntary counselling and testing at public health facilities and a further 10 percent have been offered palliative care by the practitioners. The multimedia HIV prevention messages have reached millions of people.
Professor Gqaleni also spoke about in vitro screening of African traditional medicines for their cytotoxic, immunemodulatory and anti-HIV activities.
African traditional medicine is a primary source of healthcare that healers provide to people living in Africa. Its wide use is a result of easy access, affordability, traditional beliefs and a long history of use.
African traditional medicines have been used to treat individuals infected with HIV. Traditional health practitioners and scientists agree that there is a need for scientific validation of African traditional medicines.
Research in this area aims to evaluate the cytotoxic, immune modulation and anti-HIV effects of medicinal preparations from various traditional health practitioners.
At the same workshop, Dr Vinesh Maharaj, research group leader of Bioprospecting at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) gave a presentation on combining modern sciences with ancient knowledge.
Scientific research into traditional medicines can lead to new pharmaceutical products, typically herbal formulations or new chemical entities.
South Africa is blessed with rich plant biodiversity. The country has more than 24 000 indigenous plants; about 10 percent of all higher plants on Earth.
South Africa also has a long tradition of using plants for medicinal purposes. It is estimated that at least 70 percent of all South Africans consult one of the more than 200 000 traditional healers in the country.
Biosciences focus on the discovery and development of herbal remedies and new drugs based on South Africa’s medicinal plants as well as its rich biodiversity.
Biosciences also provide opportunities for the establishment of community based agro-processing businesses for the production of medicinal crops. This is done through consortium-based research in South Africa.
Traditional healers provide scientists with indigenous knowledge that stimulates research. Eventually the research results in applications for patents. People who provide indigenous knowledge have the right to share in future financial benefits that result from the commercial exploitation of patented inventions.
This right is protected through a memorandum of understanding (September 1999) and a Benefit Sharing Agreement (February 2003) signed between the CSIR and the Traditional Healers Committee.
The CSIR entered into a similar agreement with the South African San Council in March 2002 and signed a Benefit Sharing Agreement in March 2003.
Biosciences can manage confidential information and add value by developing scientifically validated products. The work includes developing a specialised database to capture and safeguard indigenous knowledge about medicinal plant remedies.
This collaboration involves investigating information about more than 300 claims for cures provided by traditional healers.
The group combines the efforts of a multidisciplinary team within biosciences, including structural biology research into identifying the mode of action of the traditional preparations, medicinal chemists performing synthetic modifications at optimising active ingredients to improve activity and chemical product; and processing optimisation of herbal remedies.
Local collaborators include the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Medical Research Council, the universities of Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal and traditional healers.
International collaborators include the National Cancer Institute in the United States for research aimed at identifying new anti-cancer drugs, the Esperenza Medicines Foundation in Switzerland, and InPheno in Switzerland for the discovery and development of plant-based treatments for HIV, the University of Basel in Switzerland, and the Korean Institute for Science and Technology.
SANBI conducts all botanical research on behalf of the CSIR and is responsible for keeping herbarium samples. More than 11 000 indigenous plant species have been collected.
At least 32 000 corresponding extracts of the collected plants have been prepared using approved extraction protocols and are stored in cold rooms. The repository of extracts serves as an asset to the organisation and allows for the early biological screening in drug discovery based on plants without having to embark on extensive plant collection trips and extraction.
The ongoing bioprospecting activities of the CSIR have produced a rich portfolio of natural product leads, including potential new treatments for diseases such as malaria, HIV, asthma and diabetes.
Meanwhile, the Department of Science and Technology will host an indigenous knowledge systems bioprospecting platform on 28 September 2010.
The South African delegation will discuss the following areas of interest:
the Ten-Year Innovation Plan and Indigenous Knowledge Systems
a case study of scientific validation of African traditional medicines that examined the preclinical and safety evaluation of a traditional medicinal product, PHELA, which is a potential immune modulator; and
a South African herbal toothpaste, ready for the market?
The Chinese delegation will give presentations on current research into Chinese traditional medicines and Cosmeceuticals.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
27 Sep 2010
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