Study takes on toxic traditional remedies
Oct 3, 2010 12:00 AM | By BOBBY JORDAN
Poisonous traditional medicines containing, among other things, uranium and battery acid, are increasing the burden on South Africa's already strained healthcare system.
This is according to statistics on people who died after using traditional medicines.
A study on the issue by Professor Willem du Plooy of the University of Limpopo's school of medicine will be presented at a national pharmacology conference in Cape Town next week.
The findings have raised the alarm about the unregulated use of traditional medicines – although customary healers have rejected the study.
However, the research has further shown many traditional remedies badly affect Western medicine, such as antiretrovirals used to treat HIV/Aids.
Du Plooy's study, published earlier this year in the international journal the Drug Therapy Review, said: "Compared to modern medicine which is subjected to strict monitoring, none exists for traditional medicine and therefore the safety and quality must always be suspect."
The study found that some remedies had unacceptable levels of uranium and human body tissue.
"Cases are known to the author where a traditional healer has added potassium permanganate to impress the mother of a child (the child died of severe sepsis due to the corrosive nature of the permanganate) and battery acid to add to the stringent taste of the remedy," the article said.
A study of traditional medicine poisoning cases treated at hospitals countrywide showed, among other things: The death of 68 babies from 1998 to 2001 at Umtata General Hospital;
The deaths of 141 adults and infants at Ga-Rankuwa Hospital outside Pretoria from 1981 to 2000; and:
The death of 35 people – out of 103 poisoning cases – at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.
But harmful side effects were not limited to traditional medicine. Almost 15% of the 665 patients admitted to the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town in 2007 suffered adverse drug reactions.
The head of the Traditional Healers Organisation, Phephisile Maseko, said she was weary of "negative" scientific evaluation which, she claimed, was often based on faulty methodology.
She said scientists were quick to highlight traditional failures but also quick to cash in on successful remedies that led to medical breakthroughs.
But it is not all bad news at this year's pharmacology conference. Another study of 40 tea drinkers – who drank six cups of Rooibos a day for six weeks – showed the popular drink may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.