What Zimbabwe legislators said about traditional medicine – Doubt Ndiweni




Doubt Ndiweni

HON. NDIWENI: Thank you Madam Speaker Maam.  This is a topic that is deep. This is a topic I have interest in.  Traditional Medicines are so downplayed in this country when they are so important for us.  If you look at statistics in Zimbabwe, traditional medicines are used by almost two thirds of the population.  Some of us use traditional medicines behind closed doors.  Some people use traditional medicines openly but statistics say two thirds of the population use traditional medicines.  So what it means is that two thirds of Parliamentarians also use traditional medicines.

The problem that we are facing in Zimbabwe is when  people grow up and they think they have a little bit of money, then they start looking at traditional medicines as being inferior to European or Western medicines.  What they are not aware of is that most of the so called Western medicines that they take, the active ingredients come from our own traditional medicines.  So the problem that we are facing in Zimbabwe is we are not doing much in terms of research.  We cannot blame Government on this challenge that we are facing that is downplaying traditional medicines.  Government has put in policies.  Government has put the Traditional Healers and Traditional Medicines Act in place but it is how to operationalise these Acts.  How to implement them, there are people in offices that feel traditional medicine is inferior.  I am of the opposite view, I believe in traditional medicines. I used traditional medicines as I grew up and I still use traditional medicines now.

There is need Madam Speaker Ma’am, for traditional medicines to be effective – it is 40 years after independence, by now we should be having a trolley run of our own traditional medicines. Here we are, an independent Zimbabwe, we have indigenous leaders who are aware of the importance and effectiveness of traditional medicines.  What we should have done in the 40 years is to take all the traditional medicines that are known, take them into laboratories, test the active ingredients, find out what works because these medicines worked.  There is no traditional medicine that is said to alleviate stomach ache that does not alleviate a stomach ache.  So they do have active ingredients.

What we should have done as scientists was to take all these drugs of traditional healers, take them to laboratories, test them, find out what active ingredients are there and thereafter we dosage them.  We find the correct dose and we package them.  Then, most important, we should also patent these medicines because what happens is these traditional medicines that have been tested and are being used already have dosages but people forgot to patent them.  So what happens is a clever Western Scientist comes to Zimbabwe, he realises that this drug is used for anxiety and it is used in Zimbabwe.  He takes the drugs and goes with it and tests it in the laboratory and they patent it.  In the end, our own traditional medicines – we cannot claim, because it is patented by somebody who does not even know where we got the roots of that traditional medicine from.

When we talk of traditional medicines, I also wish for us to concentrate on trial because there is need for trials when we are testing these medicines.  We should avail hospital wards.  We should have a ward where we have all the patients that we are referring to say no, Western medicines have not worked on this one, let us take this patient to this ward where there is a n’anga who work there.  I will be waiting and I take my traditional medicine, test them in a controlled manner. What happens is – let me stress this point, you know the Western medicines that we take, some of these medicines do not work for African people because the trials were just done on Caucasians.  So, for your own information, there is medicine that works for Caucasian, white people and does not work for Black people.  This is why I am saying trials are very important in our own surroundings, in our own temperatures, our own black skin, our own high temperatures of 31degrees Celsius.  You test these medicines and find how effective they are.  That way, we will come up with traditional medicines that are tested for effective and then we will package them and sell them in pharmacies.

It is sad Madam Speaker, right now, go to Parirenyatwa Hospital, you will find a ward that we have opened that is dedicated for the Chinese traditional medicines – how sad.  I am not saying it is bad but we should have started by a ward that has clinical trials for African traditional medicines which is medicines that we grew up taking.

Madam Speaker, I would pause this question to male Parliamentarians in this august House, how many of them have not taken mushonga we musana?  Most of them take this mushonga wemusana if you were not aware Madam Speaker.  However, I just want to warn them on the dosages, they should be very careful otherwise they will end up with problems but we take them, I am also one of them.  I have tested to see how mushonga wemusana works and it works. These are aphrodisiacs.

Coming closer to the pandemic, like our report has mentioned, what led this Committee to then look at what the Government was doing towards the traditional medicines was the use of Zumbani recently in alleviation of COVID-19 symptoms.  Zumbani works. We have used it before for fever.  So, it actually has some active ingredients that lower temperature.  They help for fever.

We should therefore, not discard these medicines in favour of paracetamol and all the western medicines because they are expensive, not accessible but these herbs we have them in abundance, we have them in our gardens and bushes.  We are an educated nation but we are not using our education in order to help our country and also the President’s Vision 2030.  I think there should be more emphasis, we should put more funding to traditional medicines.

The other problem that we face is the funding problem.   It came out clearly in our report. There is very little funding that goes to research on traditional medicines.  Coupled with that, there is also mistrust from the so called officials in the Ministry. They do not trust traditional medicines yet they use them in the night.

The other problem that we realised is the problem that there is no coordination in the Ministry of Health.  There is a department for traditional medicine but it does not coordinate with other departments, it does not coordinate with the pharmaceutical departments, the medical department and plenty of other departments in the Ministry of Health and Child Care. By so doing, you find that nothing is achieved.  Our research in the use of traditional medicines then lags behind.

Madam Speaker, I want to enlighten you on the fact that at the moment in Europe, the most sought after drug or nutritional food is the Baobab Tree.  We have the Baobab Tree in Zimbabwe but we are not aware. So, for your own information now, if any one wants to make money, they should harness the Baobab Tree.  The Baobab Tree from the roots, seeds, and bud up to the trunk there is nothing that is not of use in that tree.  All the parts of the Baobab are worth using for nutritional purposes.  There is plenty of vitamin C, potassium and carbohydrates.  So the western world have realised it, they are actually calling it a ‘tree of life’.  We have a tree of life within our midst that we are not aware of.

The Baobab Tree is not only nutritious, we have always been using it traditionally as a medicine.  We have used it for treating malaria, tuberculosis, fever and dysentery.  So, where is our problem? We are not doing much research in order to reap the benefits of natural resources.  There are much indigenous knowledge systems that we have amongst our elders in the village.  The only problem that we face as blacks is that some of the things are not documented.  Ndiweni today knows whatever he knows but we do not write it down, so these are some of the pitfalls.

If you have an uncle or grandfather who knows a couple of traditional medicines, they do not write them down. Maybe they are trying to be secretive so that no one knows.  However, they are not aware that by documenting them down, their children and grand children will always pass on that information so much that the knowledge is not lost, it is kept within the family settings.

The other plant that I want to look at which was very popular in the 2000, if you remember the African potato, tsenza, we call them umbondiwe in Ndebele.  African potato is a very effective traditional medicine. It is very good for cancers and that has been proven but we do not know at what doses.   It is very good for prostate cancer.  It has got this drug called Beta-sitosterol which is very good at defeating cancers.  It works for bladder infections, lung disease, arthritis. Some of the things it works for, we do not even know because we have not subjected it to laboratory testing to find how effective it is.

The interesting thing about our medicines is that there are also myths around them.  I want to give you a typical myth about traditional medicines.  At one stage I was in my own small pharmacy and Mambo Dendera walked in.  Interestingly, we had funny in the pharmacy. I said to my front counter let me serve the chief myself.  So, I talked to the chief and he wanted paracetamol which I gave him but whispered to him saying dhonzai upon handing him.  So, this is one of the myths in African traditional medicines. You do not just take, you pull a little bit.  The chief looked at me and I told him do not thank me.  When he was mystified in that way, I told him musazocheuka Mambo, ndokuti ushande.  The traditional chief enjoyed the exchange. So, those are some of the myths that are associated with our medicine that makes it unique and interesting.

With those few words, I feel we are doing a disservice to ourselves by not funding research and development into our own traditional medicine.  I thank you.