For centuries, Ugandans have used herbs to treat the malaria. While they have been largely effective, their safety has never been tested.
Grace Nambatya-Kyeyune, director of research at the state-run Natural Chemotherapeutic and Research Laboratory (NCRL), is determined to remedy the situation. With clinicians at Mulago Hospital, she is evaluating the toxicity of several herbal formulations used to combat malaria. These are derived from three plants: Aristolochia elegans, known locally as kapapula or ‘little paper’, Vernonia amygdalina, commonly known as mululuza, and Artemesia annua, which was introduced to Africa from its native Asia.
The results of the clinical tests could give a green light to industrial production of anti-malarial drugs from plants extracts. Nambatya says if the herbal remedies are shown to be effective, the Ugandan National Drug Authority will register them as appropriate ‘drugs’ to fight malaria.
She says the remedies “clearly treat malaria,” and tests on people, who have used them show they get rid of the parasite. “But we have never known their clinical safety, particularly to very sensitive parts of the human body such as the brain, heart and liver,” she says.
The clinical evaluations will also allow researchers to assess the effectiveness of the herbal remedies in a controlled way. In preparation for producing herbal medicines on an industrial scale, Nambatya visited UK on October 2004, to find investors and researchers studying anti-malarial plants, who are willing to partner her laboratory. Her aim is to scale up extraction of key components from herbs that prove to be safe and effective and to mass-produce remedies based on them so that they may be sold cheaply while retaining their quality. Eventually, she hopes they might be exported to the needy.
In the UK, Nambatya visited Peter Wilde at the Coach House Group, a company aiming to develop technologies for sustainable development. Wilde is the inventor of a technology used to extract plant components, which can be used to develop therapies. “Their technology is a sealed system under a vacuum, comprising a biomass extractor, an evaporator, a condenser and a freezer,” Nambatya says. “It is efficient and needs no heat source. To be inflicted with malaria is considered normal and to attend a burial as a result is thought normal,” health minister Jim Muhwezi says. “We have to reject this because we don’t have to die prematurely. We are far from solving the disaster,” he adds.
Nambatya has identified priority plants. She hopes to form partnership with the Government Coach House and NCRL to exploit the curative properties of these plants and to put Uganda on the journey to combating malaria.
Source: AllAfrica.com, Feb 15, 2005.