Manto: Western trials not fit for traditional medicine

Well, here we go again. Our esteemed baby-killer-in-chief Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has now declared that African Traditional Medicines, while being subjected to research and development, should not become bogged down in ‘western’ clinical trials. Apparently, “We cannot use Western models of protocols for research and development… Clinical trials need protocols for traditional medicine.”

May I remind everyone again that this woman supposedly has a medical qualification? That she is a medical doctor? And yet here she stands, blatantly claiming special privilege for african medicine, referring to clinical trials as ‘western’… and then goes on to warn against “charlatans tarnishing the image of this sector … who promise our desperate help-seeking people all sorts of things that are not practically possible to deliver”. So…. all of them, then?

And then, the coup de grace of evidential reasoning, she quantifies why african medicine is so special that it does not need to be tested… because it has been used for thousands of years. Wow. Really? Under that logic, perhaps we should revert to slavery, forced marriage, human sacrifice and colonialism… all practices with thousands of years of tradition behind them. Perhaps we should go back to other traditional forms of healing: bloodletting, amputation, trepannin and electroshock therapy? Perhaps we should throw out the whole court system and bring back trial by combat? And perhaps we should bring back that wonderful old-time tradition of women not being allowed to hold public office?

Get a few things straight, Manto: traditional does not mean right. There is no such thing as ‘western’ clinical trials, there are only clinical trials, performed everywhere in the world. And there is no such thing as western medicine, chinese medicine or african medicine: there is only medicine, which is the stuff that has been tested objectively and found to work, and all the other stuff that people claim is medicine, which is the stuff that may well be helpful, harmful or placebo, but which we don’t know until we test it.

And then the Doctors for Life International group responded with one of the worst press releases ever, using as their primary argument for testing of traditional medicine, the possibility that we won’t know if it contains human body parts or not if we don’t test it. Oh, and it’s the biggest culprit in fatal poisoning in the country. Nicely done guys. While both your points are 100% accurate, all you serve to do is give her more ammunition to claim that you are only villianizing her precious african medicine and that you don’t understand it.

What needs to be addressed here is the fundamental racism that causes her to refer to all scientific advancements as ‘western’, the reverse of which is that she is basically calling africa an unscientific backwater that rejects all modern understanding of chemistry, biology and medicine. Get it straight: we are all human beings, we all have the same biochemistry, what works on a western person works on an african person works on a chinese person. We are all prone to the placebo effect, we all deserve medicine that works, and we all deserve not to be taking something that doesn’t. We all deserve for you to subject anything you suspect might be useful to clinical trials, so that if it is medicine it can be manufactured and distributed to help the world. And if it’s not, it can be outlawed, to protect the world. The only people you hurt by not doing this, is the africans already taking it.


15 Responses to “Manto: Western trials not fit for traditional medicine”

  1. That’s an excellent point – it is a racist agenda that she’s pursuing. It’s the attitude of people like her that hold back the social and economic advancement that is so desperately needed in most African countries… and we are no exception.

  2. Of course is a doctor. She took the Hypocritic Oath.

  3. Oops. Must remember to proofread before submitting. That was meant to say “Of course Manto is a doctor…”

  4. Hmm I’ve heard this argument before in relation to just about any quack therapy you’d care to name. If a treatment works then there’s no excuse not to verify that claim with objective tests i.e. clinical trials, but people will always try to argue otherwise.

    I’m a little surprised that you don’t expect this from someone with an MD. Remember an MD is not a Ph.D. Medical doctors are not educated as scientists. So while GPs etc. may be fairly rational, as a whole, their training is not geared towards weeding out people who don’t understand scientific inquiry. In this regard most medics are technologists not scientists, they are trained to use discoveries rather than make and evaluate them. Consequently an MD’s appreciation and application of evidence is quite different to that of a biologist.


  5. […] can see the reaction of modernity to the health minister’s remarks in blog comments like the following: And then, the coup de grace of evidential reasoning, she quantifies why african medicine is so […]

  6. all – I suggest you do yourselves a favour and click on the trackback above to read a post by someone who truly doesn’t get it at all. Very entertaining stuff. Here’s my favourite quote:

    if something has been used for thousands of years, then it has been clinically tested

    wow. has this person never heard of the placebo effect? How do you even start to explain this sort of thing to people who very obviously have had their head in a bucket their whole life?

  7. Wish I hadn’t read that blog actually, not only are you misrepresented it’s clear that the author doesn’t understand objective testing. They do understand straw man arguments though… I don’t see where you stated traditional medicine automatically means wrong.

    Just in case my comment doesn’t make it through moderation there I’ll post a duplicate here:

    “Actually the blog you cite does not say traditional medicine is wrong. You misrepresent the author’s position, they actually said we shouldn’t assume something works because it’s been around a while. Nothing was dismissed out of hand, except trying to dodge legitimate testing. Even the excerpt you quote makes this position clear:

    “Get a few things straight, Manto: traditional does not mean right.”


    “…we don’t know until we test it.”

    So the author is actually arguing for objective testing. There’s nothing wrong with that, after all why should there be a double standard when licensing medicines? Indeed, proper scientific investigation of traditional medicine can actually improve upon it by isolating active ingredients and quantifying an effective dose (artimesin for example).

    Oh and generations of use does not equate to a clinical trial, unless of course you can point to the placebo groups or double blinds used?”

    Hmmpf that’s enough for now I think…


  8. thank you Gift. You are of course correct. I am not advocating that traditional medicine doesn’t work. There are many medicines today that owe their origins to traditional remedies e.g. willowbark tea was tested, analysed for its active ingredients, and today you can walk into any pharmacy and purchase generic aspirin for a reasonable price, with the full knowledge that it is safe, that the side effects and contra-indications are clearly laid out, that the dosage is consistent across products and that willow trees are not being needlessly stripped of their bark.

    What I do NOT support is the idea that just BECAUSE something is traditional, it is somehow exempt from study, analysis and testing, or that it somehow obeys different laws of biochemistry than any other medicine. There are a lot of traditional medicines out there that do not work as anything more than a placebo. There are a lot that are frankly harmful to the recipient, especially because naturally prepared medicines suffer from poor dosage control – one leaf of a herb from one plant can have a totally different amount of the active compound than another leaf from another plant. So you never really know how much you’re taking, even if you think you’ve prepared it properly. Then there is the disgusting pillaging of endangered animals like rhinos and tigers for traditional remedies that have no basis in fact. And last, but not least, the murder of human beings for muti, a practise which cannot be denied to exist, in south africa and around the world.

    We have everything to gain from testing these remedies, and nothing to lose.

  9. Hmmm dunno what my obsession with the word actually was there… 5 times? Ugh I should take more time composing posts.


  10. How do you test human sacrifice for Muti? With a double blind? How about the old “have sex with a virgin” chestnut? Do you supply a few babies that aren’t actually virgins?

  11. andy, andy, andy – didn’t you see 40 year old virgin? if we try a little harder to look for them we might actually be able to find enough test material that is old enough to walk!
    i can’t say the same for pre-teens in general though. that’s needle in haystack.

    although if it’s proved true, it says a lot about the foresight of the guys responsible for revenge of the nerds: “a virgin is a terrible thing to waste!”

  12. Not to get off topic but this has fuck all to do with medicine and all to do with politics. What chance does actual truth stand when medically speaking: president elect “Rape is part of the Zulu culture” is a better option than current president “HIV does not cause AIDS.” Our health minister is a hack. She is about as effective as pulling out. She is the fucking poster child for the time we put staples through every one of the millions of condoms we got donated. And dont tell me that was not a hint.

  13. Finally someone who can write a good blog ! I loved your post and will be telling others about it. Subscribing to your RSS feed now. Thanks

  14. I have read a few of your posts and they are all interesting and informative…keep up the good work.

  15. This topic is quite hot on the Internet at the moment. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write ?

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