Working with traditional Medicines

DiseaseHealth Education

by René Gayana Simbard.

The Pan-African Institute of Community Health (IPASC) in DR Congo has several departments including training, research, healthcare, mother and childcare and consultation.

Most of the communities where we work are poor and people often lack money for healthcare. In recent years we have noticed an increase in the number of people dying from common illnesses, which are easy to treat with medicines. We therefore investigated how we could make use of local plants with medicinal properties to reduce the costs of healthcare.

Practical emphasis

To take up this challenge, IPASC set up a research project for traditional medicine. IPASC has always included lessons on traditional medicine in their teaching but until recently it did not emphasise the practical aspects. It has taken nearly two years for this dream to become reality. IPASC aims to identify local plants with medicinal properties, to prepare drugs from them, to examine patients and, after consultation, provide them with treatment. As a result, we have used traditional medicines to treat malaria, typhoid, amoebic dysentery, intestinal worms, coughs, gastritis, ear infections, rheumatism, impotence and many other conditions. All the treatments are first tried and tested. (Of course, for more serious symptoms, we try to find the underlying cause if we can.)

We have worked closely with Anamed in South-Kivu, with CRMS (Multi- Disciplinary Research Centre for Development) at Bunia and the Plant Therapy Centre in Bunia, as well as with many traditional healers.

Some of the problems

We have found several difficulties:

  • Some patients stop their treatment as soon as they feel a little better and we no longer see them at the centre. This makes it difficult to know how effective the treatment was.
  • When a patient feels better, they often refuse to be examined or have their condition monitored by our laboratory.
  • Patients are very reluctant to pay for herbal treatments even if we just ask for a very small sum.

René Gayana Simbard is the representative for traditional medicine at Nyankunde, IPASC, PO Box 21285, Nairobi, Kenya. E-mail: ipasc@maf.org

Update - Alternative treatment for TB

An alternative treatment is now available for people suffering from tuberculosis. This involves taking far fewer pills than the current treatment of 16 pills a day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) say the new treatment reduces the number of tablets to as few as 3 or 4 each day taken for the first 2 months, with just 2 each day for a further 4–6 months. The treatment is also more effective in preventing the spread of drug-resistant forms of TB.

The new treatment (known as FDC or fixed-dose combinations) uses combination tablets that contain up to four different drugs. It is based on the current recommended DOTS treatment introduced by WHO in the mid 1990s. FDC also lowers the cost of treatment.

There are about eight million new TB cases a year and at least two million people die because of TB each year worldwide. Eighty percent of TB patients are found in Asia and Africa.

At present, TB patients need to take up to 16 pills a day for at least 2 months, and then up to 9 pills a day for a further 4–6 months, in order to recover fully. Many patients fail to complete their course once they feel better, with the result that they are not cured and drug resistance spreads.

Dr Spinaci of WHO comments, ‘This pioneering work with fixed-dose combinations could also be developed for use in the treatment of other infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.’