Bringing people together to improve communication of research findings
This time last year thousands of people in and outside Eastern and Central Africa flocked to remote Loliondo village in Tanzania with their sickly loved ones following reports that an herbal concoction from a wonder plant (mtandamboo) in Kiswahili administered by the Rev Ambilikile Mwasapile could cure all ailments.
Studies show extracts from the plant could cure various diseases, including a drug-resistant form of herpes virus and chest pains.
According to Kenyan scientists, the plant was discovered five years ago as a cure for a drug-resistant strain of a sexually transmitted disease yet nothing much was said about until a frenzy pilgrimage to this little known village Loliondo.
An expert on herbal medicine also said at the time that the herb is one of the most common traditional cures for many diseases.
Among Kenya communities the herb is alleged to treat gonorrhea, breast cancer, malaria, chest pain and headache.
Five years ago, local researchers turned to the plant for the treatment of a virus that causes herpes. Led by Dr Festus M Tolo of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), the team from the University of Nairobi and the National Museums of Kenya found the herb could provide alternative remedy for herpes infections.
“An extract preparation from the roots of Carissa edulis, a medicinal plant locally growing in Kenya, has exhibited remarkable anti-herpes virus activity for both wild type and drug resistant strains,” they reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
“The mortality rate for mice treated with extract was also significantly reduced by between 70 and 90 per cent as compared with the infected untreated mice that exhibited 100 per cent mortality.”
While researchers reported that the extract did not have any negative effects on the mice, Tanzanian authorities halted the ‘miracle cure’ after 52 people were reported to have died. Medical experts at that time expressed concerns about the potency and efficacy of the herbal treatment, although this did not stop the flow of patients into Loliondo.
The flow of people seeking treatment reached a humanitarian crisis forcing the Rev Mwasapile, 76, to seek help from the authorities. At one point area district commissioner Elias Wawa Lalie issued directive saying: “There will be no more trips to Samunge village (in Loliondo area) until people who are currently there have been served and left the area”.
The remote village lacks basic amenities such as toilets, hotels and lodgings to cater for the large number of people streaming in.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that about 24,000 sick people and their relatives were queuing to see the cleric-turned-traditional healer.
Mrs Grace Ngugi, head of economic ethnobotany at the National Museums of Kenya, said the plant was not poisonous as feared earlier.
Further studies have shown the plant to contain ingredients that make it a good diuretic. Diuretics are drugs used to increase the frequency of urination to remove excess fluid in the body, a condition that comes with medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, liver and kidney disease.
Some diuretics are also used for the treatment of high blood pressure. These drugs act on the kidneys to increase urine output, reducing the amount of fluid in the blood, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
A study at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia found the herb was a powerful diuretic. It is found in many parts of the country and is used to treat headache, rheumatism, gonorrhoea, syphilis and rabies, among other diseases.
The Ethiopians tested its potency on mice and found it increased the frequency of urination. This was more so when an extract from the bark of the root was used.
“These findings support the traditional use of Carissa spp. as a diuretic agent,” write the researchers in the Journal of Alternative Medicine.
The Kemri study also isolated other compounds from the herb, including oleuropein, an immune booster, and lupeol. Lupeol, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, US, was found to act against cancerous cells in mice.
“We showed that lupeol possesses antitumor-promoting effects in a mouse and should be evaluated further,” wrote Dr Mohammad Saleem, a dermatologist.
Mrs Ngugi said the herb was one of the most prevalent traditional cures and herbalists harvest roots, barks and even the fruits to make concoctions for many diseases.
Reports about the Rev Mwasapile first trickled in as an HIV/Aids cure but were largely ignored.
The fizzle about the wonder herb has since died yet the diseases are eating away humanity. Questions are still being asked today about the Rev. Mwasapile’s ‘magic herb’. If indeed scientists agree that the plant has serious medicinal value which could treat life threatening illness like cancer, HIV/Aids, Malaria which is leading killer disease in Kenya among others, why has it not been given serious consideration by researchers?
I stand to be corrected on this though. Our scientists are busy doing their research behind closed doors hoping to earn a name for themselves. My question is however to whom to they intend to break the news to? People will be all dead by the time of ‘discovery’.
Could it be time scientists stopped spending sleepless nights in labs and having their findings held close to their chest hoping to earn an award with it one day.
Rev Mwasapile could be having a big time break through medical world. Scientists need to work closely with such herbalists.
WHO KNOWS MAY BE MWASAPILE AND THE LIKES ARE AMONG THE ‘NOTHINGS’ OF THIS WORLD THAT GOD COULD USE TO CONFOUND THE ‘WISE’!