IN his blockbuster book Amazing Power of Healing Plants Dr Reinaldo Sosa Gomez quotes a professor and scientist in America, Scott Elliot, as having at one time said Peruvian jungle dwellers discovered the value of the bark of the 'Cinchona' tree that contains an alkaloid called quinine used in treating malaria.
One day, the countess of Cinchon (from which the tree derives its name) and viceroy of Peru (1628-1639) came down with a persistent fever and was cured with the bark of the tree.
The use of this medicine was later propagated and the reputation of quinine grew rapidly and sold at high price. Today, its use around the world has been invaluable in the treatment of the world's number one killer disease.
Dr Gomez also reminds the world of how the Chinese have been using a medicinal plant called Ma-huang, containing a substance called ephedrine, for thousands of years to combat coughs, asthma attacks and bronchitis.
Physicians today prescribe it to fight numerous pulmonary infections just as the Chinese have been doing for 3,000 years.
Garlic has been used by ancient Greeks, Chinese, Romans, Egyptians and Hindus as an effective treatment for stomach disorders, skin problems, respiratory illnesses and numerous other medical difficulties.
Many expeditions are being made by scientists into South American, African and Asian jungles in search of new medicinal plants.
Dr Gomez explains that plants which have been around since the creation of the world are not here by accident.
"Their interaction with the animal world answers to intelligent designs placed at the service of the wisest plans of the author of nature Himself. We therefore applaud the recent decision of various health oriented institutions to give more relevance to natural medicine.
"This will contribute to human beings collaborating carefully and thankfully with the giver of life, and lead to a respect and obedience of the laws that govern nature, as well as an enjoyment of better health and satisfaction for living," says Dr Gomez.
The World Health Organisation ( WHO) has since 1977 sponsored an active programme on promoting the development of medicinal herbs and other natural medicines.
At the 13th World Health Congress a resolution was adopted urging governments to take seriously the traditional medical systems and treatments of their respective countries.
A number of countries especially in the West now practice natural and homeopathic medicine to the same level as allopathic or drug-based medicine.
In Zambia, PANOS Southern Africa recently held a one day workshop in a series of many, for journalists to discuss the "Access to Treatment: Alternative Treatment".
The workshop sought among other things to discuss and share ideas and experiences on issues related to HIV/AIDS so as to help journalists keep abreast of new developments.
It was also expected to help them share ideas on how best to cover specific HIV/AIDS topics as a multi-dimensional story and ultimately to improve the quality of stories.
The programme included field visits to the two institutions that are sourcing, using and researching on natural medicines in relation to HIV/AIDS.
One of the institutions visited was the Zambia Institute of Natural Medicine and Research (ZINARE), established in 2004.
ZINARE, among others, facilitates scientific approach in the utilisation of herbal medicine and promotes the production of affordable drugs especially for HIV/AIDS patients and undertakes advocacy activities aimed at plant protection and promoting the use of affordable indigenous herbal medicine from Zambia and Africa as a whole.
ZINARE executive director, Dr Lawrence Chanza said that herbal medicines were being used more in Zambia now with the advent of HIV/AIDS.
He said that ZINARE was different from witch doctors and traditional healers in that the institute used naturopathy in its treatment.
Naturopathic medicine is a complete and coordinated approach to healthcare. It is the art and Science of disease diagnosis, treatment and gentle techniques.
ZINARE explains that doctors of Naturopathic Medicine are specialists in natural medicine and preventive health care, integrating scientific knowledge with traditional healing wisdom.
"They are health care professional who use safe, gentle, non-invasive therapies to assist the whole person in maximising the body's inherent self-healing capacity," says ZINARE.
ZINARE works closely with the ministry of Health in their research.
The institute realises that treatment on drugs alone will not be effective if the diet is wrong.
"The first medication must be food to help boost haemoglobin and immunity," Mr Chanza said.
When treating a patient, naturopathic doctors take into account the genetical background of the person as not all people will respond to some herbs.
Professor Sitali Manjolo, multi-sectoral researcher HIV/AIDS with ZINARE, said there was need to exercise care in herbal medicine for HIV/AIDS research, not all plants were poison free.
He said the efficacy of a herb would also depend on the type of soil or climate in a particular area as plants extracted material from the soil.
Dr Noah Zimba, a botanist and consultant researcher said plant medicine was as old as man from the garden of Eden.
He said every medicine found in chemists and modified came from natural sources and that medicines even worked better in their natural form.
Dr Zimba said HIV/AIDS was a crisis problem arising from negligence.
He wondered why Zambia was still going chemical when the rest of the world was going herbal.
This is the only country that has not integrated herbal medicines into its programme. Yet, with the numerous improvements in health of people using herbal medicines, it is possible to conquer the impact of HIV/AIDS, Dr Zimba said.
Dr Stanley Hamalilo of ZINARE said that human beings had overlooked certain important principles that govern their well-being.
"We generally think that when a person appears healthy they cannot die. We do not understand what health is," he said.
He said health is the preservative of the life forces and the keeping of the delicate mechanisms.
There are trillions of body cells that die daily and need replacement. Food is very important in helping replace these cells.
Zambia, he said, has the best trees with high selenium content and has a diversity of over 6,000 plants with high nutritional qualities.
Another visit was to the Country Herb Clinic in Lusaka's Rhodespark.
Director, Friday Mulenga said the clinic had been using herbs such as herbal wonder to treat patients, including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and others with very positive results.
About 60 per cent of the patients have responded very well. Those that have not have either come to the clinic in the very late stages of their illness.
"TB patients are the most difficult to treat. Some patients who were both HIV/AIDS positive and had TB at the same time would not reveal they were HIV positive. They would only get treated for the TB and eventually other complications would arise.
If they get treated for both they would improve," Mulenga said.
Sexually Transmitted Infections were more serious cases than HIV/AIDS that the clinic was treating.
About 60 per cent of the patients at Country Herb Clinic were women, while 40 per cent were men.
Patients for Country Herbs have come from as far as the United Kingdom, German, USA, Japan and others.
The National Food and Nutrition Commission emphasises on the importance of food in the healing of the body.
Ms Beatrice Kawana, focal point person for HIV/AIDS in the Zambia National Food and Nutrition Commission said nutrition played a major role to HIV/AIDS.
"If one eats well they quickly recover from sickness," she said.
One wise Greek, more than 2000 years ago said, "May your food be your medicine, and may your medicine be your food."
According to Dr Joan Sabate, professor and chair of the department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, Loma Linda University, California in his foreword to Dr Pamplona Roger's book Healing powers of Food, says, population and clinical studies have demonstrated, for example, that the abundant use of vegetables and fruits prevents the initiation of certain cancers.
"Our daily food, more than sustaining us, may contain curative properties. Although, postulated, through the course of medical history, scientific evidence has only recently established the fact that some nutrients in our diet are agents that cause or cure certain diseases," Dr Sabate says.
The use of natural remedies as an alternative to modern medicine in the prevention and treatment of diseases is an area that needs to be taken seriously.
HIV-Aids and STDs
Science and Biotechnology
Health experts say, "Modern medicine has made great strides. But some of the greatest strides have been found to relate back to rather simple things: 'What you eat, what you drink, what you think, and what you do."