Our herbs can help with Covid-19, say traditional healers

Some of the traditional healers based on Warwick Avenue feel that the government has disregarded them as health-care providers during this lockdown to curb the spread of Covid -19. Picture:Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Some of the traditional healers based on Warwick Avenue feel that the government has disregarded them as health-care providers during this lockdown to curb the spread of Covid -19. Picture:Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 11, 2020


Johannesburg – While the country battles the spread of Covid-19, traditional healers lamented they and their patients had been left out of national plans to help fight the pandemic.

These sentiments were triggered by the debate that erupted after Madagascar claimed its Artemisia (uMhlonyane) based herbal tonic cures Covid-19.

The nation reached out to South Africa to assist it with scientific research after the World Health Organization and the AU requested it provide the bodies with scientific-based proof on the efficacy of its herbal medicine.

Without endorsing the Madagascan tonic, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, acknowledged receiving the call for help from Madagascar and said South Africa would “only get involved in a scientific analysis of the herb”.

But traditional healers are now asking to be involved in the fight or the search for the cure for Covid-19 said Traditional Healers Organisation’s co-ordinator, Phepsile Maseko.

“We want traditional healers to be included in the whole primary health-care spectrum because if they are only involved in just matters of HIV/Aids and TB, then it means traditional health practitioners are made to assist in only those restrictions, which is not the case in the traditional healing practice.”

Maseko said there was no regulation that speaks about traditional health practitioners being able to administer traditional medicine for Covid-19.

“Traditional medicine is only regulated by the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965, which is an act that is very problematic because it does not necessarily give adequate powers and recognition to traditional medicine.”

Maseko said the act only gives powers to allopathic medicine, which is Western medicine and also to complementary medicine which are treatments that are used along with standard medical treatments.

“But again, with complementary medicine, it runs very short as it is not adequately promoted in the country and that is why we are constantly in talks with the government to let complementary and African traditional medicine be elevated so that people who want access to treatment in those areas, are able to get respect and are able to be treated with dignity,” she said.

Traditional healer Zama Ndebele also bemoaned the government’s sidelining of traditional healers and traditional medicine.

“Even from the Western medical fraternity, there is no pill. It is all experiments that are used as we speak. There isn’t anyone at this point, who can say, ‘here is a cure’, or this is what can help people fight the virus.”

Historically, it is known that most medications are extracted from plants, he explained.

“Even if you had looked at the very first tablet that cured malaria, which was quinine, it was taken from a tree. At the moment, the Artemisia Afra, herb known as uMhlonyane, is being used often. Therefore, we are of the view that there is a need to acknowledge and proactively engage healers to also contribute to the discourse of finding solutions,” said Ndebele.

According to Ndebele, there are herbs that are used to treat pneumonia, there are herbs used to treat flu and when you look at the symptoms of Covid-19, for each one of them, there are herbs that can assist.

“What we are also saying is that, given the magnitude and the sensitivity of the matter, why can’t government join hands with traditional healers to find a common ground where they can bring some of those herbs to engage and look at the etiquette of those herbs in as far as healing and assisting is concerned?”

Ndebele said the government had not engaged traditional healers in this respect.

“They have not considered us in this particular discourse. People are already engaging with the different herbs in addressing the problem

that is at hand. There is a need for the government to acknowledge

that herbal remedies can play a meaningful role jointly with Western medication.”

However, the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) together with the Traditional Health Practitioners (THP) issued a statement saying that they had received their much-sought after recognition as part of essential services


Solly Nduku general secretary and Sanac THP’s national sector leader said THPs have multiple and distinctive roles and have been a long-standing component of health-care practice in South Africa which contributes to the primary health-care needs of the population.

“In response to the recent concerns of the sector regarding the lack of inclusive Covid-19 policies for traditional healers, the Department of Health has established guidelines for THPs in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown,” he said.

“The government must conduct research on traditional medicine and its impact and it must consult with the sector on the treatment of the coronavirus.”

“There is a need to develop systematic evidence about healing roles, practices and methods and to investigate the role and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector,” said Nduku.


With winter setting in and predictions of a surge in Covid-19 infections expected, South Africans are scrambling to get herbal-based flu and cold remedies. This has led to a shortage of ginger and garlic in stores and prices hitting the roof due to the high demand.

Garlic is known to be a natural remedy with antibiotic effects and, based on that, many people have added it to their shopping lists as an immune booster.

But garlic producers said they were not reaping the benefits of the high prices – around R88 a kilogram, partly because it’s out of season and a number of large garlic producers ceased garlic production over the past two years, said Corrie Bezuidenhout, chairperson of the South African Garlic Growers’ Association.

“Many of our producers lose hope after a year or two because once it’s packaged and shipped to the market it doesn’t sell.

“A few of our leading producers have left the industry over the last two years as it became unprofitable to farm garlic. This has directly contributed to the current shortage of garlic.”

Bezuidenhout said the shortfall in garlic was compounded by logistical delays from Spain and China, countries that export garlic to South Africa and were recently affected by Covid-19, which led to those markets easing exports temporarily while getting the pandemic under control.

However, he said, South Africans could expect to find fresh garlic in their supermarkets from September, which is also South Africa’s garlic-harvesting season.

Bezuidenhout added there had also been a spike in the demand for ginger, with a huge increase in requests from its supermarket clients.

“On the market, ginger is scarce. In the field, ginger roots are still small.

“Farmers aren’t comfortable taking out all of their immature rhizomes now, despite the excellent prices. The harvesting season starts in June.”

Last week, ginger prices rose to R110 a kilogram, not the highest price it has ever obtained (Chinese and Thai imports pull down the price spikes), but around R20 above the usual price at this time of the year, he said.

Bezuidenhout said this was due to global effects because China accounts for about 80% of the global garlic export market, 47% of the ginger market and 20% of the chilli market.

In the meantime, South Africans will have to contend with the high prices or even consider alternative herbal concoctions to fight to boost their immune systems in time for flu season.

Sunday Independent

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