Scientists are taking one traditional healer’s claims about having an HIV/Aids cure seriously, and have begun testing the plants used in the concoction.
The scientists, from the South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have described the research at the Sixth annual Bio2Biz conference in Durban.
About 700 scientists from across the continent are attending the event, which aims to build partnerships between biotechnologists and the business community.
Luke Mumba, director of the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), said so far tests revealed that one of the plants the healer uses in a milky brown drink has properties that could make it almost as effective as the antiretroviral indinavir.
"The active ingredients from all the plants have been turned into a powder and made into a capsule," said Mumba.
"So far, tests are being done on mice, but the research will be continued with a human clinical trial in three southern African countries once legal permission has been obtained," he said.
Plant names kept secret
SANBio is the southern African arms of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) bioscience initiative. The research into the anti-Aids plants that make up the traditional healer's drink is one of four initiatives being spearheaded by SANBio. The names of the plants in the drink are being kept secret.
Mumba said the plant research was the main project and was urgent as it was being removed by the traditional healer "in truckloads" as he tried to meet demand for his anti-Aids medicinal
drink at his clinic.
"It is all very exciting," Mumba said.
Other projects being driven by SANBio included an indigenous mushroom growing initiative in Namibia and inland aqua-culture in Malawi.
"The mushroom-growing initiative is an example of how biotechnology can enable small farmers to build a livelihood from a crop that can usually only be harvested for a short time after the
first seasonal rains," Mumba said.
Already small farmers had been helped to build "mushroom houses" where they could grow the mushrooms and then sell them. They were also taught new skills to enable them to produce
mushrooms in an artificial environment.
In Malawi, the aqua-culture initiative was a research project that involved the digging of fish ponds, and then using covers to raise water temperatures to assess the impact on fishing volumes.
Small farmers were also being encouraged to grow vegetable gardens around their fish ponds to supplement their protein diet. – (Sapa, September 2009)
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