Assessment of effectiveness of traditional herbal medicine in managing HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa

  • KC Tshibangu Pretoria Gynaecology Hospital, Sunnyside South Africa
  • ZB Worku School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria, South Afri
  • MA De Jongh Pretoria Gynaecology Hospital, Sunnyside, South Africa,
  • AE Van Wyk University of Pretoria
  • SO Mokwena Chief Traditional Healer, Centre of Traditional HIV/AIDS, Based Community Care, Robega Village, Rustenburg, South Afri
  • V Peranovic Pretoria, Gynaecological Hospital, South Africa


Background: Very few clinical studies have been conducted in South Africa to assess the value and efficacy of traditional herbal medicines that are commonly used by traditional healers for the treatment of HlV-positive patients.

Objective: To assess efficacy of a South African traditional herbal medicine in reducing viral load and increasing CD4+T cell counts of HIV/AIDS patients.

Design: A descriptive, prospective, follow-up study of 33 HlV-positive volunteers over a one year period. Viral load and CD4 counts were taken three times from each participant.

Setting: From November 2001 to October 2002, patients were treated at the Rustenburg Community Based Centre for traditional therapy. Clinical and paraclinical treatments and screening of patients were done at Pretoria Gynaecological Hospital.

Participants: Seven men and 26 women aged between 22 and 43 years took part in a 12-month long follow-up study. HIV monitoring was done at the beginning and after 4 and 8 months in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients with CD4 counts below 200 cells/mm3 or viral load counts above 10,000 copies.

Intervention and assessment: ab initio and after 4-months, viral load, CD4+T cell count, FBC, LFT, glycaemia, U/E, cholesterol, pap smear, clinical and subjective assessment, modern drugs plus hospitalisation for opportunistic infections and resuscitation where needed, powder or suspension of herbal medicine followed by meals.

Main outcome measures: Improvement in overall health condition and immune system, increase in CD4+T cell count and decrease in viral load count. The two sample paired t-test was used to compare initial and final counts at the 5% level of significance and power of 80%. Ninety five per cent confidence intervals were obtained for differences between mean values.

Results: After four and/or eight months of therapy, significant health improvement was achieved: better physical appearance (80% of patients), increased appetite (65%), feeling of well-being (60%), disappearance of skin marks (70%) and urogenital lesions (100%), resumption of workplace duties (60%), weight gain (80%), significant reduction in viral loads (85.4%, p=0.0015) and significant increase in CD4+ T cell counts (226%, p=0.0000).

Conclusion: Achievement of health improvement within eight months indicates that herbal medicine can be used as supplementary or alternative treatment for HIV/AIDS patients, and that it is an obvious immune system booster and probable "virus-cidal" factor. The apparent safety and efficacy of herbal medication warrants further research with a larger sample size of study.

East African Medical Journal Vol.81(10) 2004: 499-504

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