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International News

South Africa: Call to Test HIV/AIDS "Cures"

June 12, 2007

At the third South African National AIDS Conference in Durban last week, attendees called on researchers and traditional healers to work together on studies to determine the efficacy of herbs for treating HIV.

Traditional medicines are commonly used throughout South Africa, but there is little evidence of their benefits and risks. The country's HIV/AIDS epidemic has prompted a proliferation of unproven herbal products that claim to cure or reverse HIV infection.

"If we are to bring respect to traditional medicines, we need to do proper science and not take short cuts," said Professor Nceba Gqaleni, deputy dean of the school of medicine at University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) and head of the African Healthcare Systems Research Initiative (AHSRI).

Gqaleni reported on an AHSRI investigation into whether the Sutherlandia plant, used in a variety of health tonics, can help prevent weight loss in HIV patients. Phase I trials showed the herb to be safe. AHSRI scientists are now awaiting approval from the Medicines Control Council to start phase II trials, which will test the efficacy of the plant, said Gqaleni.

But some cautioned about the possible interactions between herbal medicines and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. For example, some herbs cause chronic diarrhea and hamper the body's ability to absorb ARVs, said Bathabile Zungu from UKZN's medical school.

Nevertheless, speakers stressed their respect for traditional medicines and urged scientists to make a greater effort to understand and appreciate these approaches to healing. "We must not disrespect traditional medicines," said one attendee from the KwaZulu Natal health department. "Even though most of us [here] are trained in western medicine, we must keep an open mind."

Back to other news for June 2007

Adapted from:
Business Day (Johannesburg)
6.11.2007; Tamar Kahn

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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