The initiative will bring together indigenous knowledge holders, bio-medical scientists, pharmacists and civic organisations. pic: FILE

Indigenous knowledge in the form of traditional medicines and practices has for sometime been acknowledged for its value to public healthcare, now an effort to focus this on sexual health and reproduction is at the fore.

The Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) - based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal - launched the International Platform on Indigenous Knowledge Systems “(IKS)-Based Sexual And Reproductive Healthcare” for this purpose.

The initiative will bring together indigenous knowledge holders, bio-medical scientists, pharmacists and civic organisations.

The aim being to asses indigenous medicinal plants and traditional healing practices in managing pregnancy, childbirth and in sexual reproductive health, and how to advance this in research and policy.

Professor Gail Hughes, director of The South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute at the University of The Western Cape, said indigenous knowledge and traditional practitioners and healers have an important role to play in sexual and reproductive health.

“It’s already been established that for a number of reasons a large number of people don’t have access to conventional healthcare. Due to inaccessibility, cost and so on. So we have to acknowledge how people access their healthcare. As it relates to indigenous knowledge and traditional practitioners and healers, we need to bridge the gap and find out more about the systems of healthcare that people are accessing. Is it traditional healthcare, is it conventional healthcare, are they going between both, what medicines are they accessing in terms of sexual reproductive health and so on.”

Hughes said across indigenous communities there is acknowledgement of the role of indigenous health systems in public health.

“I did some work in Senegal and Mali, and even though they may not have as many initiatives as we have in South Africa, there’s an acknowledgement and appreciation for indigenous knowledge.”

She said the key to bridging and developing this was first the establishment of CIKS five years ago as a place for people to meet, collaborate, and talk about research. “Whether around information, best practices in terms of medicine, research and so on. And then we have this initiative where we focus on sexual reproductive health.”

“The public healthcare sector is really at an impasse, it is not servicing the needs of the larger community. So that in itself lends us towards looking at alternatives and options. So, if we know, and it has been documented that people are using alternative medicines, they are self medicating, or they are using the services of traditional healers - then why not look at ways that we can strengthen the services for the larger community,” said Hughes.

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