A review of the traditional use of southern African medicinal plants for the treatment of selected parasite infections affecting humans

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Cock, IE
Selesho, MI
Van Vuuren, SF
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Ethnopharmacological relevance: Worldwide, more than three billion cases of parasitic disease are reported yearly and it is likely that this figure is substantially under-estimated. Approximately one in six people globally are estimated to be infected with at least one parasite species annually. In South Africa, the prevalence of Schistosoma haematobium (bilharzia) and intestinal worms and helminths are particularly high, especially in children and in crowded or poorer rural communities with inadequate sanitation and nutrition. Despite alarmingly high estimates, medical research into parasitic diseases remains neglected and only malaria receives significant attention and funding. Traditional medicines have been used for centuries in Africa by multiple ethnic groups and many people rely on these healing systems as their primary healthcare modality. The traditional use of South African medicinal plants to treat parasite infestations is relatively well documented, and it is important to link these traditional uses to scientific evidence validating efficacy.

Aim of the study: To document the medicinal plants used for parasitic infections and critically review the literature on the anti-parasitic properties of South African plants against some neglected parasitic diseases.

Materials and methods: A review of the literature (ethnobotanical books and publications documenting traditional plant use) was undertaken related to specific medicinal use for parasitic infections in Southern Africa. Inclusion criteria focused on human use. Exclusion criteria included veterinary use and malaria due to the extensive nature of these subject matters. An in-depth analysis of previous studies was undertaken and future prospectives are considered.

Results: In particular, bilharzia, gastrointestinal worms and helminths, ectoparasites, trichomoniasis, leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis are reviewed with special emphasis on the gaps in research.

Conclusions: Despite the availability of relatively extensive ethnobotanical records on the anti-parasitic properties of southern African medicinal plants, the antiparasitic properties of many plants have been poorly examined. There was in many instances a lack of evidence to support traditional use of many species towards some parasites and research is urgently needed in this area.

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Journal of Ethnopharmacology
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© 2018 Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providing that the work is properly cited.
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Other environmental sciences not elsewhere classified
Plant biology
Traditional, complementary and integrative medicine
Pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences
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