Representatives from the Pharm-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre (PHARMBIOTRAC) at Uganda’s Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) were at UKZN recently on a benchmarking venture. The partnership between PHARMBIOTRAC at MUST; and UKZN’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) and the Pharmaceutical Sciences Discipline was initiated in 2015 when CIKS supported MUST in the development of its successful competitive grant proposal to the World Bank Africa, Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE II).
The objective of the ACE II project is to strengthen the capacity of select eastern and southern African Higher Education Institutions in building collaborative research capacity and postgraduate education in the priority area of integrating traditional medicine and pharmaceutical sciences.
Director of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems Professor Hassan Kaya welcomed the delegates to UKZN. Kaya emphasised the Centre’s role in creating a hub for IKS development in Africa through strategic partnerships, particularly the importance of developing national, continental and global networks and “entering the global knowledge economy on our terms”.
The current impetus to integrate IKS, particularly traditional medicine knowledge and practices with pharmaceutical sciences, depends on developing partnerships with universities on the continent, such as MUST, which is well versed in the field.
Mbarara University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Celestino Obua, who headed the Ugandan delegation, highlighted their long tradition of working closely with traditional medical health practitioners and their plans to share knowledge, experience and ideas with UKZN. Referring to medicine, Obua said: ‘We try to make it useful and profitable for the healer,’ and emphasised the importance of addressing intellectual property rights.
UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Albert van Jaarsveld welcomed the delegates to the University and to Durban – the ‘world capital of fun’ – and stressed the importance of collaborations across Africa, saying he was deeply committed to strengthening partnerships on the continent. The PHARMBIOTRAC delegates from Mbarara University spent five days meeting with academics and researchers at UKZN identifying niche research areas, synergies, and critical research facilities and visiting sites of interest, including the eThekwini Silverglen Medicinal Plant Nursery.
The delegation was accompanied by Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) from KwaZulu-Natal as part of the participatory approach in the envisaged collaboration with MUST. THP and IKS Ambassador Ms Zabalazile Makhoba said: ‘IKS is the solution to most of our social ills. If we learn from our indigenous science, we can address so many challenges in our lives,’ with reference to current challenges in formal public healthcare systems. Makhoba said she was interested in seeing traditional medicine working together with western medicine to observe how they complemented each other.