Zuma wants SABS to standardise traditional medicine

Anyone see this? http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Zuma-Standardise-traditional-medicine-20111020

Does cultural sensitivity really extend to the point where a scientifically based institution needs to compromise its integrity by treating (African) woo-woo as the equivalent of (Western) medicine?

To be honest the article isn’t very clear on the exact implementations, but the only way this would be a responsible initiative is if the objective was to make sure that whatever is tested is harmless. And surely then it would fall under the department of health portfolio?

Yes. It’s one of this age’s great tragedies that demonstrable fact must always be made to defer to political correctness.

While it can only be hoped that Zuma means to implement at least some control over traditional practices for the sake of national wellbeing, it is likely that the control he seeks has more to do with the health of the national purse than with that of the people.


well, if the SABS doesnt allow themselves to be bullied, they will test the muti before putting their stamp of approval on it. and, undoubtedly, most, if not all, of the muti will prove to be useless.

Don’t be misled. Thing is, the SABS doesn’t test for efficacy, only safety. Testing for efficacy falls within the remit of the Medicines Control Council (MCC) which likely won’t be involved in this exercise. The short of it is that a SABS stamp of approval would merely mean, “Taking this stuff is safe. Well, probably safe. More than that we won’t say.”


oh joy. another useless piece of shit my tax money goes to then.

Question: Is it fair to say that NO traditional medicines actually may work?

The article says that 70% of SA uses these ‘traditional remedies’ and what-not, which might be stupid and useless, granted, but isn’t it then sort-of also our government’s responsibility to make sure this stuff is in fact safe? And warn people if they are not?
Sure, if I had any say in this I would spend the money on basic health education instead of making sure the sweet potatoes won’t kill anybody, but at least it seems to me that the primary aim of this game is to ensure people use safe ‘medicines’ (if you can call it that), and not to convince people or prove that the stuff does anything… :confused:

It would actually be cool if they did test for efficacy and found 1 or 2 new compounds that DO work, and could then safely discard the rest as abject nonsense.

No, it wouldn’t but I don’t think anyone here is making such a blanket claim. In fact, it would be foolish to reject it all out of hand. However, much of what has been tested for efficacy is no better than a placebo, and what has been found to be effective is adopted by medical science, often with improvements. Moreover, the “explanations” for the mechanisms that supposedly make traditional nostrums effective are not recognised by modern science, usually because they invoke something mystical.

And yes, part of the government’s responsibility towards its people is protecting them from harm, so testing for safety is of course a worthwhile pursuit. The problem is that the SABS’s imprimatur will very likely be taken as a thumbs-up for efficacy, besides which the problem of dosing looms large. Many medications are effective only in the right dosage, and can become useless or even harmful in incorrect amounts. The SABS would provide safe dosage guidelines as part of its testing, but these guidelines are just that: guidelines, not strict medication regimens. Again, the MCC should be involved in these studies.


Well ya know, perhaps the SABS should suggest that traditional remedies only be taken at homeopathic doses. You know, to ensure it’s potent enough. (And not harmful at all)

Maybe the secret to all this would be the wording on the product.

“this product has been certified to have no harmful compounds”

Not actually saying if it works or not.

Let’s not forget that there’s a political angle to this as well, one that is not insignificant. Even if the government understands quite well that much of traditional medicine is probably bogus (and it isn’t at all clear that it is in fact aware of this), a public declaration to that effect may well alienate many people, which would translate into votes, and vote volume is the currency politicians understand rather better than public health. So the issue must be tackled with due caution, meaning that pussyfooting around an uncomfortable truth is a safer political option than exposing it.


On the plus side, I heard one of the first ladies (gotta love this country) on radio this morning championing breast (and general) cancer awareness, a plan she has for lowering the prices of HPV vaccines, etc. And a foundation she’s running to facilitate more screening, etc. No mention of whichcraft or funny business. She seemed quite eloquent. Now don’t get me wrong but, from our current “regime”, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear stuff like this coming from the house of the president.

As for pussyfooting around uncomfortable thruths, one of my suspicions is that B. Obama is actually an athiest. His inclusion of “non believers” in many of his speeches seems indicative to me. Even though he publicly expresses a belief in God, I think this is just window dressing.

I also heard the First Lady on the radio the other morning, and I agree she seemed (surprisingly) committed and well spoken.

My main issue with the way Zuma approached this (at least the way he was portrayed) is that it came off as finally giving recognition to African traditional medicine by a legitimate scientific body. While, hopefully, the SABS will restrict itself to testing for harmful ingredients it nevertheless will be used to give it legitimacy. And I have no doubt that the current government and anti-colonialists will seize the opportunity to score political points by playing the Africa vs. West angle.

I mean, currently you can get a legal sick note from a traditional healer! Why not just quietly tone down the medicine part of their identity and encourage their roles as councillors in a “holistic care plan”? Teach them to encourage people to take their TB and ARVs at a bare minimum. Unfortunately I think many of them, especially in the rural areas, are far too self-important and superstitious to be influenced in any way.

Actually those wanting the SABS mark need to pay for the testing, and then for the ongoing use.

I doubt very much anyone will apply.

I’m in two minds about this, is Zuma really this stupid, or is he cunning like a fox knowing no one could afford to apply and it produced a good soundbite to his supporters?

I think that since the production of traditional medicines is not generally an industrial type process with strict standards and accurate dosage measurement it will be pointless to try and get an SABS stamp.

How can the SABS pronounce on a handful of herbs? How can they put their mark on a collecting sack?

It is not like the stuff is refined and bottled after accurate measurement.

Perhaps all they can do is state that in principle certain herbs in limited dosages taken in such and such a way will likely do no harm. I think the political points scored by calling for the legitimisation of things traditional is the actual goal here, not any real practical outcome.

But it was fairly obvious from the start that this whole exercise has much more to do with gaining control (as a first step towards full regulation) under the guise of safety concerns than anything else.