One of UKZN’s most exceptional women scientists, Ms Prudy Seepe, is listed in the health category of this year’s Mail & Guardian 200 Youth South Africans edition.
Born in Pretoria and raised in the rural village of Ramogwerane in Limpopo, 31-year-old Seepe is a doctoral candidate in the Discipline of Occupational and Environmental Health and the Traditional Medicine Laboratory at the College of Health Sciences (CHS).
For this, she and two others in the College received the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) South African Women in Science Award in 2012. The DST Fellowship supported her PhD focus on the development of new treatment therapy of TB using African traditional medicine as well as improving existing TB therapy.
Seepe’s study includes screening anti-mycobacterial activity of African traditional medicine used to manage TB, as well as improving and developing appropriate screening methods for testing traditional medicine. The study is also significant for teaching the importance of scientific research in traditional medicine.
Seepe highlighted that traditional medicine provided healthcare for most people (60-80 percent) in South Africa and formed the foundation of various modern therapies used today. She said the TB bacilli were becoming resistant to almost all of the current anti-TB therapy and there was an urgent need to develop new anti-TB drugs.
‘It made sense to combine my biomedical knowledge in TB research with that of the traditional health practitioners (Herbalists) to help fight the disease’.
‘Although African Health Practitioners are not recognised by the South African government as part of the health care system, there are practitioners who truly understand the calling and are accountable for their patients safety and wellbeing,’ said Seepe.
‘These are the practitioners who are willing to evolve with time and are open to learn about the new disease outbreaks. My project allows collaboration with these kind of practitioners and it is important for knowledge sharing which will help fight some of the diseases that we are dealing with.’
Seepe said although a large part of her project focused on scientific validation of traditional medicine, her other interest was empowering African traditional Health practitioners. This involved Traditional Medicine Laboratory shared information to raise awareness about what was meant by scientific research and the processes involved to prove the efficacy of traditional medicine against certain diseases
This work included explaining the Draft Policy on Traditional Medicines and how it aimed to regulate traditional medicine, the Rights and Laws protecting the traditional health practitioners during the research process (including intellectual property rights), and explaining the difference between listing and registration of traditional medicine with the Medicines Control Council (MCC).
Her long-term goals include starting a company that specializes in research and distributing traditional medicine in both the local and international market. She also envisages becoming a voice against the exploitation of Traditional health practitioners who are being exploited.
According to The Mail & Guardian 200 Youth South Africans edition’s Executive Editor Tanya Pampalone, compiling this 8th edition was a considerable undertaking, ‘with half-a-dozen researchers independently scouring the country for three months searching for interesting young people doing amazing things.’ She said it was evident that South Africa had a wealth of overachievers ‘full of talent, dreams and drive’.