SADC Secretariat Visits UNESWA: Monitoring the Progress of the SADC-SIPS Grant Programme.

In a significant two-day visit on the 7th and 8th March 2024, the Secretariat of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) arrived at the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) to monitor the progress of the SADC-SIPS (Support to Industrialization and Productive Sectors) grant programme. The SADC team was led by Ms Barbara Chibambo, the SIPS Programme Coordinator. This visit signified a significant step in strengthening collaboration and advancing the interfacing of indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge in the SADC region. The project, titled the “Application of Indigenous Knowledge for Developing and Producing Remedies to Manage HIV/AIDS in Eswatini and Zimbabwe,” is a partnership between UNESWA, Harare Institute of Technology in Zimbabwe and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.

Leading the project within UNESWA is the Eswatini Institute for Research in Traditional Medicine, Medicinal and Indigenous Food Plants (EIRMIP). Established in 1998, EIRMIP serves as Eswatini’s premier institution for multidisciplinary research in traditional medicine, medicinal plants, and indigenous food plants. The institute’s mission is to combine the expertise of researchers and knowledge holders to develop the country’s rich indigenous knowledge while promoting the sustainable utilization of genetic resources.

A key component of the project involves a collaboration with a traditional healer, Make Gama, who has a profound understanding of managing HIV/AIDS and its opportunistic infections. Gama’s traditional remedy, which has helped many people over the years, is the focal point for the project’s development. It is essential to highlight that Gama retains full intellectual property rights over her recipe, and the University has entered into a collaborative agreement to support its transformation into a registered complementary medicine.

Over the course of the project, the team has been involved in many engagements with partners within SADC, the consortium and other stakeholders to ensure harmonisation in the delivery of the project’s objectives. In her remarks, Ms. Chibambo expressed her gratitude to the knowledge holder for braving what is traditionally known to be kept secret and sharing her knowledge with the researchers for the collective development of a remedy that has a potential to not only help EmaSwati, but also the SADC region.  

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. J.M. Thwala also remarked that “The impact of this project will extend beyond the confines of UNESWA, resonating throughout the entire country. Presently, there are no registered medicines in the market derived from the wealth of traditional knowledge in Eswatini. The proposed product, once fully developed and registered, will blaze a trail as the first of its kind. It will not only improve the lives of individuals affected by HIV/AIDS but also pave the way for future research and development, contributing to the economy and well-being of Eswatini.”

The SADC Secretariat’s visit also included a visit to the EIRMIP laboratory, as well as a trip to the EIRMIP Research farm at Mafutseni, where the team is currently conduction propagation trials.