Ethnopharmacological use of potassium permanganate in South African traditional medicine

  • R A Street
  • G M Kabera
  • C Connolly


Background. Potassium permanganate (KMnO4), which is widely available, is often used by traditional health practitioners (THPs) in South Africa (SA) without taking its potentially harmful properties into account. The crystalline KMnO4 salt is sold at traditional medicine markets and shops throughout SA. However, to date, traditional uses of KMnO4 remain undocumented.
Objective. To describe KMnO4 use by THPs in KwaZulu-Natal, SA.
Methods. This sub-study is part of a larger study investigating substances used in SA traditional medicine that are collectively known as imikhando in isiZulu – literally translated as ‘ore’. THPs (N=201) were interviewed in the local language (isiZulu) by trained interviewers. Information on the reasons for using/not using KMnO4, the source of information on its use and modes of administration were collected.
Results. KMnO4 was used as a constituent of traditional medicine by 158 (79%) THPs. Their knowledge of KMnO4 use was acquired predominantly from fellow THPs (n=134; 85%). Reasons for use included skin rash or wounds (n=99, 63%) and to treat aches, pains and swelling (n=74; 47%). The main modes of administration were in the bath (n=94; 60%), orally (n=67; 42%) and in herbal compresses (n=66; 42%). The principal reason of the 43 THPs for not administering KMnO4 was not knowing how to use it (n=29; 71%).
Conclusions. This study has identified traditional medicine users at risk of manganese toxicity owing to commonly used sociocultural practices. In particular, reports of oral ingestion and use in enemas are cause for concern. This public health issue needs regulatory measures and education programmes to enlighten the population against possible harm caused by KMnO4 exposure.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135