University of the Western Cape: UWC educating communities about home remedies

It’s their work in Fisantekraal, on the outskirts of Durbanville, that is earning them widespread praise.

With the onset of the flu season during their most recent campaign, they put home remedies – such as the use of Wilde Als or Umhlonyane – under the spotlight.

The community of Fisantekraal has, for a long time now, been one of the primary recipients of the university’s School of Nursing free outreach programmes.

The Faculty of Community and Health Sciences deploys 24 third-year nursing students to the area for several community engagement projects in Fisantekraal. Their most recent trip to the township has been described as “the most successful one yet”.
UWC nursing students at work during a previous Fisantekraal outreach

Lecturer and third-year coordinator, Thobeka Siganga, beamed with pride as she reflected on the enriching experience, not just for her students, but for young and old from the community.

“I loved seeing the community absorbed and excited as students engaged in it,” she remarked. “Our main focus is not only to provide our students with a learning experience but to re-engineer primary health care to ensure implementation in service delivery, thus encouraging collaboration for sustainability.”

These programmes are not just about first hand experience for the soon-to-be professional nurses. It’s about real-life engagements and positive contributions to the communities they’ll be serving. They deal with some of the most pressing community issues, including the dangers of substance abuse, gender-based violence, and the management of trauma as a result of criminal acts.

Third-year nursing student, Lee Madre Magerman, who formed part of the visiting team, said these interventions were “hugely beneficial to the community”.

The one topic that resonated with the community was the safe use of home remedies – often not-so-tasty concoctions handed down from generation to generation. But Ms Siganga said “the safety aspect around home remedies is crucial and often ignored.”

“The communities sometimes overdose or overuse the home remedy, which can pose a danger to their health,” she explained. “The education on the safe use of home remedies also reduces the overcrowding of healthcare facilities and the development of antibiotic resistance. The community, including traditional healers, herbalists, and community members of all ages, were also taught when to consult clinics and doctors. Some of the older citizens are influencing the young ones to use remedies that are sometimes alcohol-based. And we wanted to break that status quo. We are not saying don’t use them; we are just reinforcing the safe use of home remedies.”

Students taught the community how to safely make a wide range of home remedies, including cough syrup with onions and nose drops with bicarbonate of soda.

Another focus was cinnamon water, as it helps patients with diabetes. “Cinnamon has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, known to help lower the rate at which glucose enters the body,” said Ms Siganga. “These factors also promote better digestion that may help flush out excess sugar to maintain the body’s blood sugar level. It can help improve blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It may also reduce the cardiovascular risk associated with diabetes.”

According to Ms Siganga, diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in South Africa. Treatment is costly, and people with diabetes constantly need to track their sugar levels. The price for an insulin pen, for example, is around R1200. A packet of ground cinnamon spice costs R17.99.

Another popular homemade remedy is Artemisia afria which is commonly known as Wilde Als or Umhlonyane. Ms Siganga explained: “It is an aromatic plant which grows in South Africa, and it is widely used as a remedy for various things, including coughs, colds, influenza, and malaria. They are used to treat a wide range of problems, including menstrual cramps, respiratory symptoms, and asthma. During the various COVID-19 waves, it was the most used herbal remedy. It can also treat gastrointestinal problems.”

The 30-odd kilometre long road from UWC’s School of Nursing to Fisantekraal’s Community Centre is paved with good intentions, and the students will be making regular follow-up visits there.

Klipheuwel is another area of focus for now. Students visited the town in the first week of May for another outreach programme.