Traditional Medicine Research & Policy
Research Choices & Outcomes
Researching Herbal Medicine and Nutrition
Positive people want to have choices in their treatments. Traditional healers and herbalists are using herbal therapies, widely and beneficially, to treat their HIV+ clients for the opportunistic infections that afflict them and to boost their levels of immunity. Nonetheless, despite the longevity of successful use, there is a paucity of recorded data on the effectiveness and safety of these treatments. In response to this situation, TICAH is conducting ongoing research on the efficacy of herbal medicine, and on the effects of improved nutrition and dietary supplements used to manage HIV/AIDS and treat the associated opportunistic infections.
TICAH's mandate was formulated during a meeting of experts held in Bellagio, Italy in 2005, where a research agenda was discussed and formulated. Research commenced with an investigation of funding resources available for traditional, herbal and nutritional interventions in HIV/AIDS care and treatment. Our investigation revealed that funding for traditional and herbal medicine from donors and governments is virtually non-existent on the continent. Traditional healers provide traditional and herbal therapy, but expenses are borne by clients. Furthermore, although donors are interested in nutritional supplementation and understand its importance in combating AIDS, there are, most often, no specific line item amounts for food and nutrition in the grants on offer. Programs providing care and support to HIV+ clients are forced to find creative strategies to support critical food and nutrition interventions.
Recommended Research Methodologies for Traditional Medicine
This untenable funding situation led TICAH to commission a paper, put together by the Integrative Medicine Foundation, on the current status of research regarding the role of traditional and herbal medicine as components of the treatment for HIV/AIDS. In consultation with experts, the paper entitled New Approaches to AIDS Treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa reviews existing protocols and research designs that are appropriate for testing herbal therapies. The paper concludes that research in this area is both minimal and vital, especially considering the fact that as many as 80 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans rely on traditional healers for their primary health care needs. It also puts forward a research methodology that is appropriate to the task and that can result in trustworthy, scientifically sound results.
As a result of the foregoing work, TICAH has begun funding record-keeping activities, and collation and analysis of herbal therapies, conducted at two partner clinics to determine client choice with regard to herbal therapy and the efficacy of specific herbs used for specific conditions. Faraja Trust in Morogoro, Tanzania, and the Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK) herbal clinic in Nairobi, have been keeping records that detail diagnoses, treatment strategies and outcomes for over 500 clients with opportunistic infections, from April 2007 to February 2008. Objectives of this ongoing work include:
- To develop, use and test a model for the observational study of the efficacy of specific herbal therapies
- To develop and use a standard, transferable format for recording results of observational and laboratory studies
- To analyze the data collected and make recommendations on the findings
Traditional Medicine Conference
TICAH hosted a conference in May 2008, Traditional Medicine and AIDS: Research, Treatment, and Resources at which experts from Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe reviewed the results of this work to date and proposed the next steps we need to take to more effectively integrate herbal and traditional therapies in the range of AIDS care options available to patients and clients.