NUL academics push herbal remedies

NUL academics push herbal remedies

MASERU-A team of National University of Lesotho (NUL) scientists is seeking M600 000 for the development of a “scientifically proven and safe product” from medicinal plants to fight diseases.
The project, which is under the NUL Innovation Hub, seeks to identify potential medicinal plants, screen them for antimicrobial activity and anti-inflammatory activity.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed surge in interest in traditional herbs that could fight against the virus.
Dr Lerato Seleteng-Kose, who is leading the project, told the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) last week, that a traditional herb, lengana (Artemisia afra, African Worm-wood), has been used by Basotho for generations to treat respiratory tract infections such as colds, coughs, influenza, asthma and TB.

She said the herb could be a “possible remedy for Covid-19”.
Lengana is said to be non-toxic and causes no apparent organ damage.
However, some kidney functions may be compromised at high dosages, she said.

Dr Seleteng-Kose said there are 89 plants that have been said to treat respiratory tract ailments like colds, fever, coughs, sore throats, pneumonia, asthma and tuberculosis (TB) which are opportunistic ailments associated with Covid-19.

Dr Seleteng-Kose said there are two viable ways, one is a long time solution by developing a medicinal drug and another is immediate solution herbal product in the form of a supplement.

Quoting Dr Mordecai Vusumuzi Gumede, a medical doctor who was well known for his work with traditional healers in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Selemeng-Kose said “there is no conflict between….the traditional and the modern systems of medicine”.

She said the two apparently contradictory systems are only complementary.
“Where one fails the other takes over. Each needs to understand the working of the other,” she said.
Dr Gumede, 1920 – 2000, is well known for his book titled Traditional Healers: A Medical Doctor’s Perspective, which is prescribed by several South African universities.

Though progress has been made in trying to use Lesotho medicinal plants to treat Covid-19 opportunistic diseases there are challenges halting the process, Dr Selemeng-Kose said.
She said some medicinal plants have not been screened to validate their therapeutic potential and safety.

She also said production of herbal mixtures is not regulated in Lesotho.
“There are no health standards set,” she said, adding that “the list of ingredients is not usually provided on the label”.
She called for the establishment of a traditional medicine research centre in the country.

Dr Seleteng-Kose said the money is needed to buy equipment and consumables so that they can “perform further tests on medicinal plants, which may ultimately lead to the development of a scientifically proven and safe product”.

She said the project will also seek to assess the toxicity of the plants as well as extracting and isolating active chemicals from the active plants.
The money will be used to collect plants and for conservation, plant screening and product development and excludes clinical trials and phytochemicals analysis.

Another challenge she said is that of a possible over-exploitation of medicinal plants which may lead to extinction.
She said the country has about 2 076 recorded plant species and 437 of these are used in traditional medicine.
She however cautioned about distorted media information that bring fear and cause confusion.

The project also seeks to assess the toxicity of the plants as well as extracting and isolating active chemicals from the active plants.
It seeks to develop a remedy from active plants, among others.
The team has so far identified plants commonly used in Lesotho for the treatment of respiratory tract infections.

The team is composed of Dr Liteboho Maduna, a medical microbiologist, analytical chemist Professor Mosotho George, chemical engineer Dr Timothy Thamae, organometallic chemist Dr Tebello Mahamo, medicinal chemist Oriel Hlokoane M.Sc and an indigenous knowledge holder with a B.Sc in chemical technology, Motiki Beleme.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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