12 September 2013 Volume :1 Issue :1

African traditional medicines in focus during Memorial Lecture

African traditional medicines in focus during Memorial Lecture
(From left) Professor Yonah Seleti, Mrs Phumelele Mqina (Dr MV Gumede’s granddaughter), Dr Lindiwe Simelane (Dr Gumede’s daughter) and Professor Rob Slotow.

The Chief Director of the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office in the Department of Science and Technology, Professor Yonah Seleti, delivered the keynote address at the College of Health Science’s 2013 Dr MV Gumede Memorial Lecture.

The annual Lecture pays tribute to Gumede - an exceptional Medical Doctor - who shaped the recognition of African traditional medicines in KwaZulu-Natal during a time when traditional medicine was not recognised as an alternative healthcare treatment.

Commenting during his presentation, Seleti said: ‘Dr Gumede’s pioneering work in the field of African Traditional Medicines (ATMs) during a time when there was no recognition or value to this work is still important today when much persuasion is required at all levels. We are fortunate that Dr Gumede invested in this field. His path-breaking work led to government formally recognising the field in 1994 and investing in it.’

Seleti’s address, titled “South African Paths to the Protection of African Traditional Medicines”, focused on the importance of introducing ATMs or indigenous knowledge in the global economy, thereby generating wealth to the knowledge owners but also ensuring that intellectual property rights were protected. He said legislation was essential to ensure the public was protected and that the services could be used safely.

Currently, there was also a lack of recognition of existing Indigenous Knowledge Systems’ (IKS) communities of practice as global bodies of knowledge and innovation. There was also no acknowledgement of communities of practice as professionals.

Seleti said the Department of Science and Technology together with its partner government departments were working towards providing guidelines for the development of the certification of IKS as formally approved qualifications by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

He said it was also important to ensure IKS innovation and product development which would look at the value products which needed to be patented whilst allowing higher educational institutions to credit its students through masters and doctoral degrees.

‘IKS offers traditional healers the opportunity to interact with students in laboratories.  It also provides the opportunity for local and international companies to become involved in endorsing and patenting the products,’ said Seleti.

Seleti concluded by saying that the Department of Science and Technology had taken Gumede’s dream miles further by working towards ensuring the protection against the misuse of traditional healers’ knowledge. He thanked UKZN for always supporting the work of ATM by hosting the IKS Chair and the first Centre of Excellence in IKS in the country.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College, Professor Rob Slotow, said: ‘The College of Health Sciences hosts the annual Dr MV Gumede lecture during African Traditional Medicine week to celebrate the life and memory of Dr Gumede and in particular his contribution to the advancement of traditional medicine and public health in this province.

‘Through this annual Memorial Lecture, we will continue his legacy to promote and develop African traditional medicine alongside conventional medicine, through scientific endeavour.’

author : MaryAnn Francis
author email : Francism@ukzn.ac.za