Collaboration between CSIR and DSI yields impactful results for Six Traditional Health Practitioners

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, February 3, 2021 - 00:00

The CSIR assisted six Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) in developing safe and standardised traditional medicines for commercialisation in a project funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

Contact Person

Dr Greg Gordon


The CSIR assisted six Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) in developing safe and standardised traditional medicines for commercialisation in a project funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

“The value of interfacing and mainstreaming indigenous knowledge (IK) within the national systems of innovation (NSI) directly improves the quality of life for thriving societies through wealth creation initiatives. It is important for us to valorise and create safer products that will produce jobs for women and youth. It is against this backdrop that the DSI established the IK-Based Bio-Innovation Programme, formerly “IKS-Based Bioprospecting and Product Development Platform,” said DSI Director of Indigenous Knowledge System Technology Innovation, Dr Hlupheka Chabalala.  

A common challenge for THPs in South Africa has been the inability to expand their market reach due to lack of resources and skills to develop traditional medicine products that conform to acceptable standards of safety and quality.

In an effort to improve the safety and quality of IK-based products,  the DSI led consortium selected six products following a call for expression of interest to THPs across the country. The products have been used historically by the traditional health practitioners as therapeutic remedies but required improvements. The products selected for improvements were:

  • UmphethaTM an iced tea used to treat internal ulcers, blood cleansing and immune boosting; Moshumasekgwa, a tea that treats high blood pressure, diabetes and urinary problems; Lenong, a tissue oil to treat wounds and arthritis;
  • KgopaTM, a petroleum jelly to treat sores, skin problems and stomach ache;
  • PrijapTM a herbal liquid with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties that strengthens the immune system and increases energy levels and appetite; as well as
  • Areka Ya MakgomaTM, a herbal sachet that facilitates the healing process of opportunistic infections and improves appetite.

“To ensure the safety and quality of these products, we came together with the University of Pretoria and used our scientific expertise to identify the active mixtures. We also carried out in-vitro tests to confirm the activity of the ingredients/products and then re-formulated the mixtures in consultation with the traditional health practitioners. Dermal safety studies, microbial, shelf life and stability studies of the new products also formed part of the safety and quality procedures we followed,” said CSIR Senior Researcher, Dr Greg Gordon.

Additionally, the programme provided the selected traditional health practitioners with relevant skills and knowledge on how to start a business and commercialise indigenous products. To provide this training, Innovation Hub, BioPark and the CoachLab Entrepreneurship Programme collaborated to provide knowledge content that covered subjects on business, finance, marketing, leadership and operations skills. The programme also explored the trademark of product logos in South Africa and through the South African Bureau of Standard Design Institute Product, introduced the subject on branding and commercialization of natural products in South Africa.

One of the Traditional Health Practitioners and Prijap product owner, Prince Msomi had this to say about the programme: “I am so grateful for this programme which has played a significant role in shaping my journey which started in 2005. Much of my knowledge today and the product I have managed to develop to this point comes from my grandfather. This traditional medicine has been in the family since the early 1900. With the help of the CSIR, in-vitro studies were done and proved that the product has the ability to perform three of the following activities: act as an immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and has Anti-oxidant properties. I also want to give thanks to the DSI for their continued support.”

“The PrijapTM brand since participating in the programme, has grown and now houses four interns who are completing their national diploma in biotechnology. I alongside other THP’s have received such deliberate technical support over the years which has equipped us to be meaningful contributors to socio-economic development.”

The final products, dossiers (technology package) and trademarks were handed over to the THPs in a formal ceremony arranged by the DSI and the CSIR in November 2020.

“This is the first time that the CSIR has undertaken such a bold venture and we have gained a lot of experience in this exciting field.  It will certainly not be the last because the project embedded capacity building and successfully trained two Masters students and three interns who will continue working in this sector,” said CSIR Research Group Leader, Dr Blessed Okole.