Submitted by Mathew Porter
I am writing an interesting blog this evening. I need to give you a brief background first to put things in perspective, and, I hope, this will also open up a new section on medicinal plants and their uses.
Almost 3 years ago, in March 2008, I attended a seminar organised by Anamed (Action NAtural MEDicine), which was about the use of naturally occuring plants to treat common ailments in Africa specifically, but also anywhere else as well! A fascinating course involving lots of plants, I learnt things that had always seemed out of my league - such as making tinctures, ointments - even soap!!! One of, if not THE most useful practical course I have ever taken. One of the highlights of this course was the use of Artemisia annua to treat malaria. Malaria is very common out here, and living on a farm, with an interest in nutritional and useful plants already, this sounded very interesting. Now I am a bit of a Thomas. I don't just believe something until I have fully understood it or seen it for myself. The guy leading the course, Keith Lindsey is a Brit working in Germany for Anamed and goes all round Africa teaching people how to help themselves using the plants around them and alleviate the need to use precious money to buy commercialised products with the same ingredients as those around them.
So. After this week we had learnt a lot, and the Artemisia annua was of particular interest to me. I grew it, quite successfully, and used it on many occasions to treat malaria for myself, my Dad, my Mum, Patricia, even Alai. It is the same plant that is used in the production of the now-standard artemisinin/artemether-based drugs here. It however contains another 10anti-malarial compounds, making it a ACT (Antimalarial Combination Therapy) in itself.
SO, when I went by Alai and Amina's house a few days ago, their 5 year old child was pretty sick with malaria I asked why she wasnt at hospital and they told me they had no money and their NHIS (health insurance card) had run out, so they needed money to renew it or pay for hospital. I know Alai very well, but literally had not a penny with me. I told him this, and he was fine about it, wasn't really asking me anyway, but the girl was really sick. Lying down, very hot, not eating, been vomiting. Not good.
So we thought about Artemisia - this guy, Alai, whom i work with already has taken artemisia before for malaria and was surprised by how effective it is, so I came back to check my Anamed's "Natural Medicine in the Tropics" book on dosages for children and my Artemisia stock. I found the dosages, but my stock was not enough for a full treatment for her. I also picked up some lemongrass for the fever and as a diuretic. I got there, and was honest was him - I had some Artemisia, but not enough to treat his daughter. I had enough for 3 days but not for the full 7 that was required and did not want to start something that we could not finish - thankfully he told me he still had some Artemisia annua left from last time I gave some to him (less than 2year old leaves!!!) - so we looked at it, measured it, and mixed them together.
I explained the dosages very carefully and even drew some diagrams on their whiteboard to demonstrate it all. I mixed up one day's worth of both Artemisia and lemongrass for her and made sure he (and Amina) understood it. The next day I went back, and they had not given it to her for the morning dose, so I made sure they gave her some right there and then - still no money! - explained (again) how important it was to keep dosages up - on this morning, she was still pretty bad. She had been better the night before, but malaria oftens relapses in the mornings especially if you don't treat it on time! But by that evening, with her dosages correct and the lemongrass, she was up and around, still a bit warm, but 10x better! By the next day, I had some money - so, as we are dealing with a 5 year old, one has to be very sure they are getting better, I gave him some money to sort out health insurance - I actually owed him for helping me out with sheep and bush fires anyway...! Of course, sorting out health insurance took another full day, and it wasnt until that evening that they got it, so not until morning that they were able to go to hospital! So it was the Monday afternoon we found her pretty sick, and not until the Thusday morning that she was able to get to a hospital.
I made sure they kept giving the right amounts at the right time, but asked them to still go to hospital when they could to check her out - by now, both parents are quite happy to leave her on the Artemisia as they can clearly see the effects, but it was wise all the same, especially as we were dealing with a child. At the hospital they tested her and gave her some drugs anyway - I told them to tell hospital they had been treating her herbally, and they did, and also to stop the herbal treatment once on the pharmaceuticals - I don't like to experiment with children!!!
So, her mother is very happy, as is her father, as is the girl! If I had not gone there, they would have kept giving her paracetamol until they had the money to go to hospital. But thanks to the Artemisia, we were able to get rid of most of the symptoms and treat her until she went to hospital. I didn't really like mixing the herbal with hospital, but I felt that she really needed to go and see a doctor in case there was anything else wrong that the Artemisia could not treat. I do however know that she would have been fine on just the Artemisia along with the lemongrass but I wanted to make sure that she saw a physician who could do tests on her. SO! Phew! Giving children a herbal medicine is not something I have done before, especially for something as serious as malaria,... But sometimes we have to take decisions under circumstances - based on experience and knowledge, preferably, but the point here is that thanks to Artemisia, and Anamed, we certainly avoided their child getting very sick indeed.
So this demonstrates a practical application of herbal remedies - especially in an emergency situation. I hope that we can have the opportunity and interest in more herbal remedies and experiences on this site, as the reality is that MOST of the rural people are still using herbal remedies as their primary form of healthcare. Some may be misguided, but there is often a lot of good in what is used, and one should be very mindful not to throw the baby out with the bath water when dealing with rural people and rural solutions.
You can find out more about the fascinating work of anamed at www.anamed.net - I jointly represent Anamed Ghana and those interested in learning more about this should contact me !