Standards of African traditional medicinal herbs need to be developed urgently because a large part of the country’s population depend on them for primary health care, President Jacob Zuma has said.
There was a need to set up a national standard traditional medicinal material bank, he said at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) on Thursday, asking the institution to speed up efforts to standardise African traditional medicine.
“We need to improve the quality of traditional medicines and to promote and implement quality control standards to raise the standardisation level of the entire sector.”
This had to be done because studies had shown that at least 70 percent of the total population depended on traditional medicine for primary health care, he said.
“People in rural areas will go to a doctor who they believe calms sickness down, then they go to traditional healers to get healed.
“Our commitment as government is to bring traditional medicine into the mainstream of health care, appropriately, effectively and above all safely,” he said. The new laboratories launched on Thursday are aimed at strengthening the country’s economy, SABS chief executive, Dr Bonakele Mehlomkulu, said.
The laboratories would also ensure that substandard goods did not make it to the market place.
“South Africans have, for the past 66 years, known that they could come to us for advice, testing, certification, and we had started to fail them. We are now thriving anew.”
With the new unique infrastructure, the SABS would be able to send quality local products to inter-national markets and lock substandard goods out of the local market.
“With the new capacity and infrastructure we have greater room to make a bigger impact on the economy. We can play a bigger role in ensuring that government services provide quality upfront,” she said.
Traditional medicine and biodiversity had been largely neglected in South Africa, she said.
It was a R2.9 billion industry with 133 000 informal employees working and harvesting about 171 indigenous plant species, she said.
The plants were taken all over the world, she said, and this posed a threat to the sustainability of the industry and the livelihood of the people who worked in it.
The threat came from people who came in to harvest the plant species, threatening the intellectual property rights of the custodians of the plants and the tradition.
“Missing is the standard testing, harvesting, storing and the assurance of continued quality the country needs to produce,” she said.
Zuma said: “In today’s global market, standards are crucial to realise and maintain market access. Domestic producers no longer have a secured home market.”
Companies now had to adopt international standards to remain relevant in the marketplace.
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