Minister backs plant research

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang attended a conference on traditional African medicine while the national assembly elected South Africa's new president.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang attended a conference on traditional African medicine while the national assembly elected South Africa's new president.

Tshabalala-Msimang, one of the cabinet ministers who was expected to resign after Thabo Mbeki's departure but did not, spent yesterday morning in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, hours before President Kgalema Motlanthe was expected to name his new cabinet.

She addressed a research colloquium on African traditional medicine under the theme "Harnessing research for validation of African traditional medicine".

Tshabalala-Msimang said research and development in this area was important for "improving accessibility to healthcare through the production of researched and standardised medicinal products".

It would serve the "needs of our people in addressing the use of traditional medicines in infectious diseases, chronic illnesses and preventative care", Tshabalala-Msimang said.

The health minister said much of the research conducted in South Africa so far had not focused on the medicinal value of the whole plant, but rather on isolated extracts of plants.

"Much of the research in South Africa has focused on the isolation of the chemical constituents of medicinal plants, where structural determination has been an end in itself and the activity of compounds isolated have not been assessed," Tshabalala-Msimang said.

"It is possible then that potentially useful molecules must have been missed in this way.

"As a result, despite our wealth in both plant and cultural diversity, South Africa has been unable to leverage this to create a vibrant biotechnological and pharmaceutical base," the health minister said. - Sapa

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