According to World Health Organisation (WHO) over 80% of the African population rely on traditional medicine for their health care needs due its popularity, accessibility and affordability. WHO has urged governments to formally recognise traditional medicine and its role in combating complex health conditions affecting people in Africa and other countries.

In Uganda, traditional medicine, including herbal treatments, play an important role in managing diseases. However, Uganda is listed in the top 10 countries faced with a high threat of herbal medicine extinction. Traditional medicinal knowledge, usually passed down through generations, is also steadily fading. It is therefore crucial to preserve herbal medicines and promote indigenous medicine knowledge to improve health outcomes and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.

Alumnus Patrice Mawa headshot

Dr Akusa Patrice Mawa

In March 2024, Commonwealth Alumnus Dr Akusa Patrice Mawa delivered an activity to create awareness on preserving and promoting indigenous knowledge on traditional medicine in Entebbe, Uganda.

Akusa Patrice Mawa is the Principal Scientist at Uganda Virus Research Institute. With professional background in botany, zoology and immunology, Patrice is passionate about empowering communities about traditional medicine and its role in managing infectious diseases.

Raising awareness on traditional medicine

On 30 March 2024, Patrice delivered a one-day training session on traditional medicine for community members in Entebbe municipality. The training session was attended by 100 people including teachers, surveyors, traders, nurses, builders, religious leaders, practicing herbalists, and elders and political leaders from the community.

The training included a series of talks by expert speakers and group discussions. Sessions were supported by facilitator, Beatrice Awino Waniala, an expert in conservation of medicinal plants.

The event was attended by special guests, Mr Mugabi John Socrates, a community leader and Director of Action for Liberty and Economic Development (ALED) based in Entebbe, Mrs Catherine Bambya, a community leader, and Ms Nambatya Jackie, a health personnel from Fukang healthcare, whose presence promoted the importance of collective action within the community to preserve indigenous and traditional medicine.

With community in mind, Patrice engaged local leaders to translate English speaking parts of the programme into the local language, Luganda, to achieve maximum participation and engagement. The training sought to promote awareness of indigenous knowledge and traditional medicine, and provided a platform for attendees to discuss existing knowledge on herbal medicine and learn about ways medicinal plants can be protected from harmful environmental effects such as overgrazing, deforestation and general environmental degradation.

The importance of herbal medicine in disease management

Facilitators Dr Mawa, Mr. Kibirige, Ms. Mutebi, Mr. Mugabi and Dr. Kyosiimire

Facilitators Dr Mawa, Mr Kibirige, Ms Mutebi, Mr Mugabi and Dr Kyosiimire

Patrice commenced the training session with a welcome note. He explained the objectives of the session and urged participants to engage in discussions on traditional medicines.

Following the opening remarks, Beatrice Awino Waniala presented on the history of herbal medicine. She discussed that indigenous cultures across the globe have developed their own systems of herbal medicine. Summarising her session, she stated that herbal medicine has a long history stating back to ancient Sumerians and Egyptians and has contributed to the development of modern pharmacology.

Jajja Mutebi, an experienced and certified traditional herbalist and midwife, led a session on the importance of indigenous medicinal knowledge in Uganda. She informed the participants that the indigenous communities in Uganda have a vast knowledge of medicinal plants. She discussed the different parts of plants and how they can be used prepare herbal remedies. She highlighted that traditional healers play a central role in preservation of indigenous medicinal practitioners. She urged participants to recognise the value of indigenous medicinal knowledge and practice as it contributes to a more holistic and culturally sensitive approach to healthcare in Uganda.

Dr Jacqueline Kyosiimire-Lugemwa, a research scientist at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, presented on herbal medicine research in Uganda. She explained her work in conducting research and testing herbal products to ensure they are safe to use for medicinal purposes. She emphasised the important role played by the National Chemotherapeutics Research Laboratory in supporting herbal research in Uganda. She also urged participants to pass on the existing knowledge on indigenous medicinal plants to their children and future innovators.

Following the sessions by expert speakers, participants engaged with each other during group discussions in which they shared information on commonly known herbal medicinal plants and herbal products, and how they use these to manage diseases. Patrice invited each group to present on the key discussion points which highlighted concerns around the fading knowledge on indigenous medicine and lack of government support and recognition. Members were urged to contact formal institutions such as the National Herbalist Associations to put forward their concerns regarding indigenous medicine.

Following the group discussions, practicing herbalists shared the benefits of medicinal herbs. Patrice introduced a library of herbal medicinal products commonly used by the Entebbe communities and shared information on treatment of various diseases with these products. Participants also received herbal plants [such as?] to encourage participants to grow herbal medicinal plants in their gardens, as a way of promoting and preserving indigenous medicinal knowledge.

Testimonials were shared by participants on the use of herbal medicine over conventional medicine to treat different health concerns including maintaining sugar levels for diabetics.

The training also provided a platform for local leaders to build capacity in the management and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems with medicinal herbs.

Next steps in preserving traditional medicinal plants

At the end of the workshop, Patrice gathered feedback from participants to understand the impact of the session information. Feedback indicated that community members had increased awareness on traditional medicine and indigenous medicinal knowledge as a result of attending. They also expressed interest in attending similar trainings in the future.

Patrice will continue to liaise with local leaders to scale the project to other parts of Entebbe municipality, and to increase efforts to preserve and promote traditional medicinal plants and indigenous knowledge. This will include monitoring the the usage of the herbs that were distributed to participants.

Akusa Patrice Mawa is a 2012 Commonwealth Scholar from Uganda. He completed a PhD in Immunology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.