There is a fairly popular view, particularly in developing countries, that science should be harnessed to serve public good and that the science community should also strive to demystify and make it easily accessible to ordinary people.
And this seems to have been top of mind for Asavela Kasa, a Masters’ student at the Walter Sisulu University, when she chose a research study to investigate the use of traditional medicine by pregnant women in a rural village of Qumbu, in the Eastern Cape.
Indigenous knowledge system
Miss Kasa’s study of traditional medicine is also an area of interest for the department of science and innovation (DSI). The department has prioritised indigenous knowledge system by setting up the IK-Based Bio-Innovation Programme. Through the initiative, the DSI aims to mainstream the indigenous knowledge including traditional medicines within the national systems of innovation.
Another key objective of the programme is to help traditional medicine practitioners to expand their market reach and equip them with skills to develop traditional medicine products by ensuring that they conform to required standards of safety and quality. In addition, the idea is to highlight the significance of the medicinal value or properties contained in some of the plants growing in the local communities.
Titled: Health Seeking Behavior of traditional women Using Traditional Medicine: A case Study of Lalini Location, Qumbu Village, the research inquired into why women would consume traditional medicine during the critical stage of pregnancy. She wanted to ascertain why women in this particular locality rely on these traditional concoctions without showing any medical complications or side effects.
Once Miss Kasa has assembled sufficient data, she will then add a scientific testing of the noted plants and medicines as to confirm their chemical components and safety in pregnancy as indicated by the users. Kasa, who is the principal researcher of the study, is supervised by Dr Nelly Sharpley from the department of arts. The experiences addressed in this research included their choice of health support for fertility and pregnancy, what influenced their decisions on the choices of traditional usage for conception and during pregnancy.
Miss Kasi, , who has recently graduated cum laude, said that her interest in the topic was inspired by seeing a lot of women in her village using traditional medicine to try and conceive and even during the nine months of pregnancy they continue using the traditional concoctions. The research was conducted in Lalini Location, Qumbu, and it discovered that most women who use these medicines are doing so because they live in far-flung areas where there are no healthcare facilities.
Said Miss Kasa: “One of the traditional medicines that they use is isihlambezo, the medicine is consumed by a pregnant woman in their second trimester of pregnancy until the baby is born. The plant is grown in a glass of water and the woman has to drink it every morning and evening to deliver a healthy baby.”
Those who had challenges conceiving were using a plant called Umayime, which according to Miss Kasa, is believed to treat infertility. You infuse its roots and its leaves and mix them with warm water to drink, she explained.
Traditional vs. western methods
“The use of these medicines is common amongst women between the ages of 25 to 35 who are believed to be persuaded by their families or in-laws to use them and most of these women are uneducated, they either did not finish high school or have not entered university,” added Kasa.
These women use both traditional methods and western medicine when they manage to get access to healthcare facilities. The research has discovered that there were no complications experienced by these women when using the traditional medicines. Other traditional medicines used were umchamo wemfene which is believed to cleanse the bladder and aloe which cleanses the womb.
According to Sharpley, the next logical step for Kasa’s research is a doctoral study. “Her promising scholarship will surely add into the population perspectives of fertility by taking on the African approach in the study of fertility globally,” concluded Sharpley.