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UMHLONYANE CRAZE FOR COVID-19, SO WAS AFRICAN POTATO FOR HIV

By Ackel Zwane | 2020-05-23

The craze over umhlonyane, the much talked about plant that is supposedly potent enough to kill or cure the coronavirus, can just be nothing but a craze.

The African continent has often carried many stories about miracle cures such as this so called wonder plant but often there has been no adequate scientific backing that indeed these cures do actually carry along the miracles.

In the advent of the human immuno virus, HIV, the craze over African potato attracted the attention of the world as one possible cure but that narrative has since changed, no one speaks of the African potato anymore because it turned out that this was nothing but a hoax. Science Directs describes the African potato as rooperi and more commonly known as hypoxis, African potato, Yellow star flower (English), Lilabatseka, Zifozonke (Swazi) and Inkomfe (Zulu). It is widely distributed in the savanna regions of South Africa, Eswatini and Zimbabwe and is increasingly also grown as a pot plant.

The African potato from Eswatini received its fatal blow when the Indian Journal of Agricultural Science reported in 2012 the interception of an exotic plant parasitic nematode (Rotylenchus minutus) on African potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) from Eswatini. Interception, Quarantine, Spiral nematode twenty-one corms of African potato, Hypoxis hemerocallidea Fisch, Mey and Lall imported from Eswatini Agricultural Research Centre, was received at Division of Plant Quarantine, NBPGR, New Delhi in September 2011 for its quarantine examination. Rotylenchusminutus was intercepted during the quarantine processing for the first time in India on imported African potato corms.

 African potato, native to South Africa, also occurs in Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, is used for its medicinal properties, in particular to boost the immune system.  It is a tuberous perennial with strap-like leaves and yellow star shaped flower. The tuberous root stock or corm is the part used mostly for its medicinal properties.

These qualities may still be popular in the field of medicine but locally it was perceived to be potent enough to get rid of HIV and many pseudo medical persons harvested the plant in large quantities and it was circulated widely and even exported to the rest of the region. It became so poplar that it almost won itself the same fame as cannabis from the kingdom which is widely known as Swazi Gold.

It was reported this week that researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, in Potsdam, are collaborating with a U.S. company, ArtemiLife, to test an extract from the plant Artemisia annua to determine its effectiveness in speeding recovery from the virus. The western viewpoint, however, is that, so far, is there is no ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus until clinical trials prove Madagascar’s herbal medicine. The other thinking from the continent is that the rest of the world is jealous of Africa’s discoveries, that Madagascar should just roll out its wonder drug and sell it to the rest of the world.

In the meantime in Eswatini people are running from one corner of the country to another in search of umhlonyane while others are already making a killing mixing all sorts of concoctions for as long as it looks like traditional medicine. The ministry of health is not involved whatsoever to control the distribution of the concoctions because people are doing it clandestinely. But the ministry has always warned the public that there is still no cure for coronavirus and these messages often fall on deaf ears.

Voice of America reported that despite Madagascar’s exports of the herbal medicine to several countries, doubts remain. Professor Stanley Okolo, the Director-General of the West Africa Health Organisation, part of the regional Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, sounded a note of caution on VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio programme. “We have not seen the evidence of the research,” he said. “I have heard that it has cured two people, and for us in the medical field and in the health profession, we need evidence before we can support a cure.”

There has been additional skepticism coming from the World Health Organisation and other prominent health bodies. “At least 70 traditional medicine experts from countries across Africa held a virtual meeting with the WHO on the role of traditional medicine in the COVID19 response,” WHO’s regional office for Africa tweeted on May 12. “They unanimously agreed that clinical trials must be conducted for all medicines in the Region, without exception.”

To some it is worth trying anything than to wait for conventional medicine. It is also surprising that even those who pretend to be enlightened are taking the lead in trying anything for as long as it is locally developed, it must be safe. People are ready to offer themselves as guinea pigs just in case the concoction works, if it kills it’s still fine.

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