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Gaunt and motionless, a young woman in her 30s lies in her warm bed in the Holy Cross Hospice at eMoyeni and stares up at the face of the person standing next to her lightly massaging her face with a herbal cream.
She is one of hundreds of HIV and Aids victims - many of them nearing death - that Empangeni ethnobotanist and Zululand University Research Fellow Anne Hutchings has tended to over the years in far-flung areas of northern KwaZulu-Natal around Empangeni and Mtubatuba, relieving the effects of their terrible skin conditions and easing painful joints.
In many cases she has been able to give her patients a new lease of life, thanks to the use of a range of herbal medication, most importantly Sutherlandia, which has shown incredible results on patients staring at a slow and ghastly death.
At the weekend Hutchings paid yet another visit to eMoyeni, a place of hope where dedicated nursing staff, headed by Sister Priscilla Dlamini, a Catholic nun and nursing sister, care for patients in the late stages of the incurable syndrome.
Dlamini's work at eMoyeni and Hutchings's remarkable success with herbal remedies have not gone unnoticed.
Both have been the focus of media attention locally and overseas, and on Friday a BBC Science team investigating herbal medicine in South Africa, including the widely used indigenous plant Sutherlandia frutescens (cancer bush), were at the hospice where they gained insight into efforts being made to ease the agonising suffering of patients with full-blown Aids.
British broadcasting journalists and researchers were in Zululand to document the success stories of patients who have shown remarkable improvement. Hutchings's expertise in the field of herbal medicine and work with Aids sufferers has led many of them to believe their lives have been prolonged.
Hutchings and Dlamini have been able to share their knowledge on the use of these medications and nursing procedures with small groups of local traditional healers. This has been met with an enthusiastic response.
The work with Sutherlandia and the creams was initiated by invitation at Ngwelezana Hospital's HIV Support Clinic five years ago and since then informed and consenting patients have been treated. Numbers have grown dramatically and this has been attributed to word of mouth from people who have seen the difference the treatment has made to other patients they know.
Among those who have been treated in the HIV Support Clinic have been those suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure who appear to take the Sutherlandia well with no apparent adverse side-effects when it is taken with their chronic medication.
Sutherlandia is an effective immune-booster long used for a multitude of complaints. Its well documented properties have been and are still being widely researched around the world.
Preparations from the herb Warburgia have been extremely helpful in pain and infection control, and African ginger is very popular for headache and insomnia. Frequent significant and often sustainable weight gains attributed to the Sutherlandia have been recorded, Hutchings says.
One of her first patients to have been treated at Ngwelezana clinic, Nonhlanhla Zungu, was diagnosed HIV-positive 11 years ago and in 1998 she went down with spinal tuberculosis.
The prognosis for patients with such TB and Aids is poor, but after a month on Sutherlandia she reported she was able to do housework. Recent blood screening showed her to be well above the limit at which patients are now being given anti-retrovials (ARVs) by the state system.
"This has also been observed recently in other patients and indicates that the Sutherlandia may in some cases be a significant factor in delaying the need for ARV therapy," Hutchings said.
She continues with her work, but little funding has been available and Hutchings is working largely on a voluntary basis.