DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE PARTY SHUNS
AFRICAN TRADITIONAL MEDICINES
While on a visit to the friendly city of Port Elizabeth on Monday last week an article in the EP Herald proclaimed that the Democratic Alliance (DA) had voted on whether they would or wouldn’t support the inclusion of African Traditional Medicines (ATMs) into the Medicines & Related Substances Amendment Bill (Bill 6 of 2014). This took place at their federal congress in Port Elizabeth over the previous two days.
This contentious Bill has been hotly debated by the Portfolio Committee on Health in Parliament for almost a year, and many stakeholders across the Complementary Medicine and African Traditional Medicine sphere have rejected clauses within it, which will subsume most traditional and natural health products under the pharmaceutical pre-marketing approval processes, which we believe is not appropriate for the sector, and which threatens to destroy it.
According to the newspaper report, the DA’s shadow health minister, Dr Wilmot James appeared dead-set against the inclusion of African Traditional Medicines into the broad basket of legal medicines sold in commerce in South Africa, even though traditional health practitioners are being regulated by the Traditional Health Professions Council, and their sick notes have been validated by the Supreme court of Appeal. His reason, as reported, was that they needed to be scientifically tested and go through clinical trials like pharmaceutical drugs.
The Traditional Health Practitioners Council was established by an Act of Parliament in 2007. Leading up to promulgation of the Act which established the Council, the DA fully supported the formal recognition and regulating of traditional healers. But now, with this vote, it refuses to support or recognise their medicines, which are integral to their practice. It is estimated that up to 30-million South Africans utilise African Traditional Medicines, both prescribed by healers and sold commercially in lower LSM retail outlets.
Why has Dr Wilmot James chosen to steer his party’s policy away from supporting the regulation of the safety, quality and efficacy of African Traditional Medicines, when his party has supported and continues to support the inclusion and excessive regulation of other non-indigenous Traditional Medicines, eg Western Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine and Unani-Tibb Medicine?
Yesterday (on Africa Day), I had a brief exchange with Dr. Wilmont James in Parliament about this issue, and tried to obtain clarity on his stance. I explained to him that allowing the inclusion of non-indigenous traditional medicines under the mooted South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), and at the same time excluding indigenous traditional medicines, was unconstitutional in terms of the equality provisions of the Bill of Rights. His response was dismissive, and he answered with the question “So what’s the problem with that, I don’t get it”, before being drawn away to another pressing matter.
I sincerely hope that senior members of the DA who support Equality and the Bill of Rights which ensures freedom of choice of health care, such as Gail Daus-Van Wyk and Abraham Letsise, can light the fires of reason within the party, and articulate the fact that the DA can’t afford to shun the majority of black South Africans and their traditions in this manner, especially if they wish to garner more votes from that sector in the upcoming elections. The viewpoint represented by Dr Wilmot James in this instance may not be the best way to make new friends and influence people across the cultural divide.
There are an estimated 220 000 traditional healers in South Africa who dispense and market African Traditional Medicines across South Africa, many of whom are prominent traditional leaders. Traditional leaders greatly influence the socio-political landscapes of the communities where they live. It was insulting enough that this Bill explicitly excluded the National House of Traditional Leaders when the Department of Health presented it to various government departments when it was drafted.
It was always the intention of the Department of Health to bring African Traditional Medicines into formal regulation through this Bill, as evidenced in presentations made to the Portfolio Committee on Health by the Department of Health prior and during the public consultation processes.
In January this year the TNHA sent a letter to Ms. Joey Gouws, the Registrar of Medicines of the Medicines Control Council in an attempt to clarify the Council’s official position on commercial African Traditional Medicine remedies which are sold all over South Africa and on the internet. 
Two months after sending the letter, I bumped into Ms. Gouws at Parliament and asked when we would receive acknowledgement or reply to the said letter. She denied receiving it.
After reconfirming her delivery address with her, we resent the letter and received an acknowledgment of receipt and a commitment to reply shortly thereafter. We still have not received a reply three months later. Does this demonstrate the government’s reluctance to tackle this thorny issue?
It appears both the ANC and DA have decided that African Traditional Medicine, and the volatile politics which surrounds it, must be swept under the carpet for political expediency, perhaps because national municipal elections are just around the corner. What they haven’t factored into this decision is that civil society, vis a vis The Traditional & Natural Health Alliance, are actively monitoring their every move and will be responding accordingly.
We have been told that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health has wrapped up its deliberations on the Medicines & Related Substances Amendment Bill (Bill 6 of 2014), and that the final draft of the Bill will be sent to the National Assembly at its next sitting (first week of June). It will be read at the National Assembly, where party members from across the political spectrum will be able to comment and vote on whether to either send it back to the committee for re-drafting, or forward it to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
The NCOP will workshop the Bill through a series of public hearings in the nine provinces. The TNHA would like health conscious people from across South Africa to engage their provincial legislatures and local political representatives when these hearings take place, and reject aspects of the Bill which (a) capriciously restrict access to traditional and natural health products, (b) undermine the public’s constitutional freedom to choose the modalities of healthcare they wish to use to maintain their bodily integrity, and (c) which stops all innovation in traditional and natural medicine dead in its tracks.
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- Medicines & Related Substances Amendment Bill (Bill 6 of 2014) – Section 5.2. Download
- Briefing on the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill – Presented to Parliament by the Dept of Health – 3 Sep 2014 – (slide 19). Download
- Briefing on the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill – Presented to Parliament by the Dept of Health – 3 Sep 2014 – (slide 15). Download
- Letter from TNHA to Registrar of Medicines – 21 January 2015. Download