Saturday, 23 June 2018
It’s been a beautiful day in Masindi—blue skies, sun, and no rain! The New Court View Hotel has lovely gardens and I’m including a bunch that I took today.
Besides working on the phenytoin research today, Janine and I took a trip around town to talk with herbalists. I am teaching a complementary and alternative medicine course in the fall to the pharmacy students, and I was interested in learning more about the herbs that are used in Uganda and what illnesses they treat. We went to 3 herbalist shops. I think the practitioners were a little skeptical about a “muzungo” (white person) asking them about their trade but all three were willing to talk to me. We did need to use a translator, though, and Janine’s usual driver, Moses was willing to help. It turns out that I was completely unable to find out what plants are used in the preparations.
Janine and I both agreed that the first herbalist we spoke to, a woman, was most knowledgeable. When I asked how she trained, she pointed to a photo on the wall of her mentor, who is an herbalist in a town about an hour away from Kampala. She told us that she treats diabetes, high blood pressure, sickle cell, malaria, colds, etc. but she would not tell us what plants she uses. She just laughed and said she uses flowers and stems and all parts of many plants. She had a bunch of bottles of liquid on the shelves which she pointed to as the products she recommends for the different illnesses. These were not manufactured in a industrial plant—she actually made the herbal preparations herself. Janine asked if she ever adds sugar to the products to which she answered yes but also said she doesn’t add sugar to the meds for diabetes. The second herbalist seemed like a quack. He wasn’t too interested in talking to us and his shelves held lots of bottles of colored liquids that looked like they were put into reused water bottles. He said he didn’t make them himself and told us to treat malaria he would tell the patient to take a couple of capfuls after meals but that he would sell them two 16oz bottles. With those directions, the person would be treating malaria for at least a week or more, which is crazy, considering the severity of the disease and the fact that the medications for malaria all are taken for just 3 days.
The 3rd herbalist clearly did not know much about her medications. Her shelves, though, were filled with labeled manufactured herbal products. Each had a photo on the label to give an idea what it was for and directions that said what it was for in both Luganda and English. I think she just read the labels and sold the product that matched the patient’s symptoms. She said the 2 most common complaints were malaria and men needing more “power”. We looked at bottle with a picture of a lung on it and asked if she recommended this for TB (tuberculosis) and she said yes. This is kind of scary—to think there might be a patient with TB who is only taking this herbal product and probably spreading the disease to everyone around them. When I was speaking with Janine and Moses about the general use of herbals, it seems like there are some patients who will ONLY take herbals and some that have died because they wouldn’t take western meds. But, many patients do take some herbals but also believe in western meds.
Tomorrow morning, I head back to Kampala. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in Masindi and glad I took the trip to see old friends.