The African Traditional Medicine Day took place on Wednesday 31 August 2022. Dr Jane Namukobe from Uganda has a background in natural products chemistry. She has worked on drug formulation and drug discovery from medicinal plants. She was interviewed by HEJNU Founder Esther Nakkazi and here are the details:
- What are some of the herbal medicines you are working on?
Generally, I work on medicinal plants that are traditionally used in treating various infectious diseases including malaria, tuberculosis, cancer etc. I am currently working on plants that are used in the treatment of skin related conditions and infections.
- How does what you studied at the University help in the traditional medicines formulations?
I studied botany and chemistry and obtained a Bsc in chemistry and later obtained an Msc and PhD in chemistry of Makerere University. Understanding the chemistry of medicinal plants in very important in traditional medicinal formulations as it forms a basis of standardization, dosage and quality assurance. Medicinal plants have a variety of chemical compounds that are not only responsible for their healing properties but also for their toxicity. Therefore, knowing the quality and quantity of these chemicals is important to ensure that the formulated herbal medicine is of good quality and not toxic. The compounds in these plants act as chemical markers in the formulated herbal medicine.
- Most herbal medicines are passed down from generation to generation. Is that the case with you and the interest you have in this subject?
This is to a small extent for my case. Though as I was growing up, there were common medicinal plants that I would see people use when they were sick or I would be told to use when I would get sick. Forinstance Bidens Pilosa (black jack) for wounds, Vernonia Amygadalena (bitter leaf) malaria, and so many others, I have obtained much of the knowledge about herbal medicine from various interactions. I have had interactions with herbal medicine practitioners and traditional healers during ethnobotanical surveys in different regions of the country.
- Some of the combination therapies of traditional medicines and Western medicines could be bad. What can be done about it?
Indeed, combination therapies of traditional medicines and western medicines could be bad if done without proper monitoring of a health care provider. This is because of the effect of drug interactions and over dosage that could occur. Integration of herbal medicine and conventional medicine has proven to be difficult due to lack of transparence in both systems. With increasing demand for herbal medicine, there is need for health care givers to adapt to the combination of both therapies.
- People with albinism are some of the people who would benefit from your herbal skin treatments. Do you think your herbal skin treatments will help them?
The albino community are the primary beneficiaries of the herbal skin treatments since the herbs have shown to have a sunscreen potential. The albino skin lacks the ability to screen off harmful UV radiations and this causes severe skin burns, irritations that lead to bacterial infections and sometimes skin cancer. Therefore, Plants with sunscreen potential would be beneficial to this community.
Have you tried to sell the idea to this marginalized community?
Yes, indeed in most of my community engagement activities, I have had several albino families whom we have shared this idea with and we are working to see that we come up a herbal cream that can benefit this community.
- Biodiversity decline is one of the issues we are facing today and it affects herbalists. How do you think it should be addressed?
Biodiversity decline decreases the supplies of raw materials for not only making herbal medicine but also drug discovery and this not only affects the herbalists’ livelihood but affects the local population who rely on medicinal plants for their health.
Loss of biodiversity can only be addressed by creation of interventions that can reduce human activities like deforestation for agriculture and settlement which is one of the major causes of biodiversity loose. This should be a collective effort from the government, private institutions and the local population in ensuring that gazetted forests are not destroyed, and to also ensure re afforestation is done. Another intervention is the creation of herbal gardens where important medicinal plants species can be planted.
- What are your thoughts about integration of traditional complementary medicine in national health care systems?
Integration of traditional and complementary medicine in national health care systems is essential because it can be a foundation for achieving universal health coverage. Having this integration is a game changer in ensuring quality, and sustainability. It can contribute to improving quality of health care services through regulation of traditional and complimentary products, practitioners and services used by communities, and strengthening sustainability systems through maximizing potentials to manage disease outbreaks.
- What are some of the challenges you are facing as a developer of herbal medicines?
Developing a standardized, quality herbal medicine, there is need to acquire knowledge on its chemical constituents, efficacy and safety. Acquisition of this information is costly and time consuming.
Besides, just like any other herbal medicine developers especially in Uganda, one of the major challenges is ensuring quality of the product. This can arise as a result of variations of the plant chemical constituents due to variations of the source of raw material.
Also due to increasing interest in herbal medicine worldwide, there are so many people including the local population, herbalists and industries that are hunting for medicinal plants causing reduced availability of medicinal plants. Thus, many quack herbalists have resorted to developing low quality medicine including producing adulterated herbal medicine which puts users to a high risk of developing complications.