HIV/Aids

30 August 2007

Study: Treat HIV with plants

A study to determine whether medicinal plants can be used to halt the progression of HIV into full-blown AIDS is expected to begin next month at a South African hospital.

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A pioneering study to determine whether medicinal plants can be used to halt the progression of HIV into full-blown AIDS is expected to begin next month at a South African hospital, a conference on traditional medicine was told Thursday.

About 124 HIV patients will participate in the trial of the Sutherlandia plant, also known as "unwele" or the "cancer bush" at Edenvale hospital in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal province, scientists told the African Traditional Medicine conference in Durban.

Traditional medicine, doctors studied
The trial will be the first to study the effectiveness of traditional medicine in delaying the progression of AIDS in HIV patients and draws on the knowledge of traditional healers, who have long used the plant, claiming it boosts the immune system.

Traditional healers have participated in the conception and design of the project, Professor Nceba Gqaleni of the University of KwaZulu-Natal told SAfm radio.

Only patients in the early stages of HIV will participate in the study, which is a joint initiative between the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Missouri in the US.

Initial results are expected in about 18 months.

South African scientists are said to be divided on the healing potential of Sutherlandia, which grows as a bush and is already on sale in tablet form.

Hospices already medicate with plants
Some AIDS hospices in South Africa are already using it to treat patients' symptoms, amid anecdotal reports of good results.

News of the trial comes amid fresh calls for the resignation of South Africa's Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for, among other things, endorsing vegetable remedies to treat the symptoms of HIV/AIDS and talking down antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) that have been proven to prolong the lives of HIV/AIDS patients.

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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