Dr Idah Tichaidza Manduna is among the leading African scientists who are assiduously to highlight the significance and the benefits of the traditional and indigenous African medicine to world’s health system. The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for the global medical fraternity to collaborate and share knowledge on how to improve and enhance the world’s capacity to deal with future outbreaks of deadly diseases.
For decades African indigenous medicines has been looked down upon despite them being the primary sources of active ingredients of many Western drugs and medicines that are used to treat common ailments such as influenza and headaches..
Dr Manduna is currently a senior researcher in the Centre for Applied Food Sustainability and Biotechnology (CAFSaB) at the Central University of Technology (CUT). Her mission is to ensure that the value of plant medicines is recognised and taken seriously by the science community. One way of achieving this is to highlight the efficacy of the indigenous medicine by providing scientific evidence about the range of medicinal properties that most indigenous plants provide. In addition, Dr Manduna aims to record and write down the information about the importance of traditional medicine as information was passed from generation to generation through oral traditions.
Dr Manduna is the authority in the traditional medicine space given her qualifications and her vast experience. Before she joined the CUT, she lectured at Walter Sisulu University; she has an MSc in Botany from University of Fort Hare and is also a decorated ethnobotanist with special interest in agro-processing African traditional medicine and indigenous vegetables.
The department of science and innovation (DSI) is one of the local institutions that are providing support to promote and mainstream indigenous knowledge system including African indigenous medicines. DSI believes indigenous knowledge should be the integral part of the national systems of innovation and this is why it provides skills and resources to local communities particularly traditional healers as the custodians of traditional knowledge. It has also established Indigenous Knowledge-Based Bio-Innovation programme to specifically develop and promote African and indigenous medicines.
Basis of modern drugs
Said Dr Manduna: “In fact, medicinal plants are the basis of modern drugs. For example, Aspirin was developed from the traditional use of the willow tree and many drugs used for cancer treatment are based on medicinal plants. Modern drugs evolved as people gained more understanding of the compounds found in the medicinal plants and their effects.” She is using CAFSaB as a strategic platform and scientific base to conduct further research into the efficacy of traditional and indigenous medicines to treat various diseases.
It is thanks to her stature and expertise that the centre has gained prominence and it is counted as one of the best in the country. The impact and influence of her work has seen many African people including the youth taking pride in using African indigenous medicine. Some of them are also beginning to package the indigenous plants and market them as part of their economic activity.
Opportunists taking over
Dr Manduna says she is excited and encouraged to see African communities embracing their traditions by tapping into their own indigenous plants whose importance has been ignored for a long time. But she also expressed a concern about the fact that some people are opportunistically targeting the sector for their own selfish financial benefits. As a result of this, the knowledge holders and the custodians of the knowledge or the resources are side lined and do not always benefit from the boom in the marketing of medicinal plants, she says with a sense of sadness.