(From the interviews conducted on Indigenous medicinal
herbs of Southern Africa)
We interviewed 3 ladies from the hospice in Kwa Zulu
Natal, where they offer palliative and home based care especially to HIV and
cancer patients. They have worked together with Anne Hutchings, a well known botanist, administering 3 kinds of herbs and creams for a number of years now. One of these ladies, Unice, travels with Anne to the townships and translates for her.
Selina explained how they take care of the patients who can't take care of themselves. The patients use herbs before going on ARV's.
The herb 'Sutherlandia' (Sutherlandia frutescens) boosts the immune system. 'Warburgia' (Warburgia salutaris) is a type of antibiotic. 'African ginger' (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) is a painkiller.
They discussed one of their patents, Nkosinati, who had a CD4 count of only 64. After using the herb 'warburgia' (Pepperbark tree) his CD4 count rose to 390.
When doing house calls, the ladies massage those with painful joints (neuropathy). Neuropathy is a lack of blood supply to lower extremities where patients feel pain when they walk. They soak their joints in warm water and then massage with cream made from five different herbs.
These patients get emotional, psychological and physical
support because they get no support at home. The ladies assist clients when they are sick or are going to die soon. They assist the family and explain
how to administer the medication. Many of these HIV patients complain of hot urine, terrible sores, STD's, swollen feet, painful joints, and shortness of breath. The leaves of the 'umhlonyane' (Artemisia afra) helps with shortness of breath and asthmatic people.
Patients are shown how to wash the mouth to heal the sores/abscess with the 'isibaha' leaves (Pepperbark tree). For patients who have running stomachs, the 'umgwava' leaves (from the Morula tree) are helpful. It is taken like a tea - crushed and placed into warm water. The tea is their first aid for those who are far away from hospital.
These ladies work with Anne, physically massaging the sick with the cream. Sometimes the patients own family members are too afraid to touch them. The ladies help them understand how they can safely touch them and turn them in various positions.
Anne demonstrated on one of her patients, Phindile, who was horrifically crippled by arthritis. She had no use of her fingers, as they were all crumpled up and stuck together. Anne explained how this lady had a stroke and thereafter developed arthritis. Anne soothed her hands and knees with the cream. The cream improved blood circulation, helped with the pain and loosened the tight joints.
Phindile spoke to us about her recovery with the herbal ointment, and Unice translated. She told us that the times when Anne and the ladies weren't there, her little grandson rubbed the cream in for her. The small
boy of about 3 years, peeped around the wall, his little fingers fidgeting with
the peeling paint, his face beaming and his eyes smiling.
She went on to say how "isiphepheto" relives the pain and also gave her back her good appetite – the only trouble is there isn't always food to eat. It has been hard, because she lost her disability grant through a terrible policy scam. This makes Anne's work even more difficult. She manages to get food
through the hospice but the entire situation is demoralizing. Anne and the ladies come and see her only once a month and leave her with enough cream and tablets to tie her over till the next visit. If she does run out, Anne
sends more to her with Unice.
Anne continued by telling us that when they first found her, Phindile's
muscles were grossly tightened so they massaged all the way down her back. Anne explained the importance of massaging the neck and muscles in the head - as they tighten up and cause immense discomfort.
It was October of 2005 that Anne started treating Phindile. By that November, she could lift her arms for the first time, and sit on the bed and swing her feet.
She feels positive that she will walk again one day.