Ancient Remedies

06 Oct 2006

Thirty-three percent of the sexually active population of the south African nation of Swaziland is infected with HIV, and two-thirds of its million inhabitants live on less than two dollars a day. They depend on traditional medicine not so much because of a particular attachment to their roots as the inefficiency of the health care system and the lack of synthetic medicine, for which demand remains very low due to poverty.

The country’s approach to medicine is pragmatic: herbs cost less and are more easily available. “It is not a question of preferring the old to the new, or vice versa; it is about obtaining benefits from all resources available in times of emergency,” stated Dr John Kunene, formerly a government official for the Ministry of Health.

The government of Swaziland has assembled a booklet detailing medicinal herbs and their healing powers. An example is garlic, prescribed as an antibacterial and expectorant, useful for treating hypertension, arteriosclerosis, dysentery, colds and typhoid fever.

These natural cures are not only prescribed for everyday ailments but are also employed to alleviate the painful symptoms typical of HIV and AIDS. To combat anemia, from which infected patients often suffer, the government brochure recommends consuming a native spinach called umbhidvo together with peanuts. The vegetable is rich in iron and is practically a weed in both rural and urban areas. Another example is ginger infusion to fight nausea, another common symptom of the virus.

The AIDS epidemic among the poor has forced the fusion of modern and ancient medicinal treatments. The kind of health education that is occurring in Swaziland is disappearing, even in poorer countries, with the onset of urbanization.

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