Johannesburg, South Africa – Traditional medicine expert and Honorary Professor at the Durban University of Technology, Professor Nceba Gqaleni, says the traditional medicine sector requires developmental support in light of its value within the South African economy, its contribution to job creation, and its widespread use by a large percentage of the South African population.

Speaking just a month before the 4th edition of the Africa Health Congress where he will be presenting a paper titled A need for a new research ethics committee dedicated to the development of African traditional medicines and indigenous African plants”, Professor  Gqaleni highlighted that based on available data, it is estimated that the traditional medicine sector in South Africa is currently worth more than R20billion, creating more than 140 000 jobs, mainly in rural areas and primarily for women.


Like conventional medicine, traditional medicine is used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical, spiritual and /or mental illness.


“Although this is a challenging sector in which to find reliable information on trade since many sector participants operate informally or on a small scale, the sector can, nevertheless, not be ignored. With up to 80% of the South African population estimated to consume traditional medicine in some form, it is an industry that requires extensive support”, said Professor Gqaleni.


He added that the lack of consistent information is compounded by the fact that the sector in South Africa is broad in nature. For example, traditional medicines may be sold either as prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, or may be described as self-medication (home) remedies, dietary supplements, health foods, functional foods, phyto-medicines or any other title. They can be purchased in health food shops, supermarkets, health spas, street vendors, muthi markets, and pharmacies or prescribed by traditional health practitioners.

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Professor Gqaleni’s paper at the imminent Africa Health Congress will place the spotlight on this call for support by emphasizing the necessity for a research ethics committee that will focus solely on the development of African traditional medicines and indigenous plants.“Current research on traditional medicine is conducted under the banner of biomedical ethics committees, ignoring the reality that traditional medicine is a complete system of healthcare with its own philosophy, theory and ethics.  It is important that future research be conducted within the correct ethical framework”, he said.


From a continental and international perspective, relevant bodies have been making strides to promote the sector. African governments have recognised the wide use of traditional medicine, and the importance of optimising its integration into national health systems. The African Union (AU) declared the years 2001 – 2010 as the Decade of African Traditional Medicine, and further extended this to the decade 2011-2020.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 provides a framework to promote traditional medicine and its integration into national healthcare to reduce mortality and morbidity, especially in the least-developed countries.


Africa Health 2014 is an event that has grown in stature and popularity since its inception in 2011 and is dubbed as the continent’s premier medical showcase. Conference organisers, Informa Life Sciences Exhibitions will host the event at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand from the 29 – 31 May 2014. The event comprises a three day conference and exhibition and also features the latest medical innovations from international manufacturers. This year, over 5000 delegates are expected to attend the medical showcase. Africa Health will be donating 100% of its conference registration fees to the Smile Foundation in South Africa.

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For more information about Africa Health Exhibition & Congress 2014, please visit


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