OPINION | Nceba Gqaleni: South Africa urgently needs a ministry for African traditional medicine

Professor Nceba Gqaleni (provided)

Since we are in our isolated rooms due to lockdowns, the day of African traditional medicine on the 31st of South Africans, writes Professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Please be careful.

The problem with post-colonial independent African governments is that they continue with the colonial agenda that their people have oppressed.

They consider indigenous knowledge systems to be outdated and western hegemony to be progressive. You have lost touch with the views and needs of the local people.

It is a shame to see the Ministry of Health’s neglect of its constitutional responsibility to the traditional medicine sector. This is made even more difficult by the fact that the sector does not have the financial strength to take the department to the Constitutional Court to force it to do its job.

It has now been 14 years since the Traditional Health Practitioners Act 2007 was passed. However, the Interim THP Council was reluctantly appointed by the Minister of Health in 2013 under pressure.

This council lacked the means to implement its plans until the end of its term of office. A new council has not yet been appointed. However, we expect employers to deal with the sick leave of their employees who exercise their choice and right to consult traditional health practitioners.

Society expects the healers it consults to be legitimate and regulated in accordance with the law. Parliament, which is expected to oversee the activities of the department, sleeps at work.

How do you protect the health of the population using traditional medicine and hold the Ministry of Health responsible for it? I encourage those with the resources to bring this government and parliament to the courts of this country.

New treatments for Covid-19

A draft policy on traditional medicine has been suspended since 2008. That’s no joke. Nevertheless, there is a National Development Plan: Vision 2030, which proposes the integration of traditional medicine into the national health system and the pharmaceutical industry.

There is no one overseeing the implementation of this aspect of the plan. However, we urgently need new treatments for Covid-19 that could come from traditional drugs.

This is by no means a Mickey Mouse sector, which however had to remain consciously informal due to a lack of investment.

Recent estimates put it at R 20 billion a year, creating more than 350,000 jobs. But the government has a headache because of unemployment.

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This sector can create two permanent jobs per hectare of land where medicinal plants are grown. There is so much unused land in the rural areas. Now that cannabis is legalized, it generates an additional R28 billion annually. This sector is not affected by economic downturns or pandemics.

It is embarrassing as a South African to attend international forums dealing with traditional medicine that South Africa is a signatory. These include the World Health Organization, the African Union, BRICS and IBSA.

The WHO recognizes and supports traditional medicine worldwide. The AU recognizes and promotes traditional medicine through its Decade Plans 2001-2010 and 2011-2020. China and India have full departments for Traditional Chinese Medicine or AYUSH, which are politically headed by a minister.

Support from the Department of Science and Innovation

I applaud the support of the Department of Science and Innovation by funding research and innovation in this sector. It shows that with the political will of the ministry and the leadership of DG, things can happen.

Because we are in our isolated rooms due to lockdowns on African Traditional Medicine Day on the 31st of South Africans. The Ministry of Health has let us down.

– Professor Nceba Gqaleni is Fractional Research Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Adjunct Professor at Durban University of Technology and a member of the Africa Health Research Institute.

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