Medicinal Plants Used by Traditional Healers in Zimbabwe for the Treatment of Malaria

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Medicinal plants used by traditional healers for the treatment of malaria in the Chipinge district in Zimbabwe

Ngarivhume T, Van’t Klooster CI, de Jong JT, Van der Westhuizen JH
J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Jan 15;159:224-37
PubMed PMID 25449454

Researchers at Walter Sisulu University, University of Amsterdam and University of the Free State conducted an explorative ethnobotanical survey of the Chipinge district in Zimbabwe to document how malaria is conceptualized and diagnosed by traditional healers from the Ndau people, and to record the medicinal plants used in the prevention and treatment of malaria, their mode of preparation and administration.

Cassia abbreviata
Cassia abbreviata [Source: Jeppestown, Wikimedia Commons]
Based on interviews with 14 traditional healers from four villages (selected with the assistance of the headman of the Muzite area and a representative of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association), the team identified 28 plants used by the healers to manage malaria. Cassia abbreviata was the species cited most often, followed by Aristolochia albida and Toddalia asiatica.

The traditional healers, while aware of the pitfalls of appropriation, chose to work with the investigators:

“The healers were aware of the possibility of unfair bioprospecting practices from institutions such as pharmaceutical companies and were concerned about legal protection of their intellectual property and a possible lack of proper compensation, similar to the findings described by Uprety et al. (2012) amongst the aborigines of Canada. We were thus surprised by the absence of significant resistance from the healers to supply us with traditional knowledge and plant material. We attribute this to the involvement of the local headman and ZINATHA and the prior informed-consent forms that explained the objectives, benefits, risks and general procedures of the survey in Shona before the start of the project.”

In their conclusion, the authors suggest priorities for further research and development:

“The data gathered in this survey could assist in identifying plant species and extraction methods to develop herbal drugs against malaria in Zimbabwe. The most widely used plants for the treatment of malaria reported in this study such as Cassia abbreviata and Aristolochia albida should be prioritized for further research. In vitro screening programmes, based on this and other ethnobotanical study results, could be important in validating the traditional use of herbal remedies and for providing leads in the search for new active principles…. Scientific validation of herbal medicine may eventually lead to more widespread use of traditional medicines in cheaper health care systems, as in India and China, provided that thorough toxicological investigations, clinical studies and randomized controlled trials are carried out. African traditional knowledge and medicine thus have the potential to play a large role in primary healthcare, particularly in poor and isolated rural areas. This underscores the value of traditional knowledge and the need to collect and preserve traditional health practices.”

Read the complete article at PubMed.

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