Science and innovation dept to research traditional medicine for Covid-19 fight

A doctor in Wuhan, China, earlier this year.
A doctor in Wuhan, China, earlier this year.
STR/AFP via Getty Images
  • The science and innovation department has reassigned millions towards the possible role of traditional medicines in the fight against Covid-19.
  • The department said it will also be working with Madagascan authorities after its president said the herb artemisia can "cure" Covid-19.
  • The study will be conducted in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria.

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation has reassigned R15 million from existing indigenous knowledge projects to support Covid-19 interventions, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said in a briefing on Wednesday.

"We are in the process of implementing multiple interventions including the use of African medicines as immune modulators and anti-coronavirus therapeutics.

"The programme has been working with the African Medicines Covid-19 Research Team in researching several South African herbs and formulations, with documented evidence for treatment of respiratory infections, signs and symptoms," he said.

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The department said it places a high value on conducting ethical and responsible research, development and innovation initiatives as it continues to build on previous work with the World Health Organisation African Regional Office (WHO-AFRO) in the development of guidelines for the evaluation of traditional medicines.

Nzimande said one of the herbs the team is working on, is Artemisia afra, also known as umhlonyane in the Nguni languages.


News24 earlier reported the medical use of the umhlonyane herb became popular after President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar said artemisia is among the herbs being used in his country to cure Covid-19. However, the WHO warned that the herb "should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects".

The director general of science and innovation Dr Phil Mjwara said the department was working with Madagascan authorities to find the active ingredients.

"The study is conducted in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, so our scientists are working with the Madagascan researchers to try and look for the active ingredients that the minister referred to in the plants to look at whether this plant is able to have [an] effect on the immune modulation of the virus," he said in response to a query about the artemisia plant.

He added that it would take time.

"This is a work in progress. These things take time but we are working with our Madagascan researchers in order to make sure that proper protocols are being followed and the effective ingredients, once found, the clinical research is done and the data is profiled to be given to health and products regulatory authority (sic)," he said.

READ | Possible decline of artemisia

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala previously unveiled a clinical laboratory which will be used to conduct research on indigenous plants and herbs in search of a possible cure for the coronavirus at the Cedara Agricultural College.

News24 earlier reported artemia was being processed at the laboratory as one of the herbs widely respected by African communities for its potential.

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