Saving lives through herbal medicine

by Edgar Gweshe

Touched by the plight of patients unable to access medicines at government and private hospitals at the turn of the millennium, Sister Yullita Chirawu (55) of the Roman Catholic Church, together with fellow worshippers mooted the idea of herbal gardens as a way of saving lives.

What started as a small project in Chinhoyi in Mashonaland West has become a respite for people suffering from various ailments ranging from diabetes to HIV/AIDS. Chirawu’s passion for saving lives started following her appointment as the Diocesan Health Coordinator for Chinhoyi in 1994.

She says her experience in that role taught her of the need to source home remedies for people living with HIV/AIDS, especially those who could not afford to buy medical drugs.

“We used to run home-based care programmes, going into communities and assisting patients who were failing to get treatment because of poverty. But this became difficult after donors pulled out,” she said. For Chirawu and her peers, the lack of financial resources did not mean that they would just stand by and watch the plight of communities that used to benefit from their programmes.

“By that time, most people could not afford health treatment, especially in rural areas and there was also a shortage of ARVs. On top of that, other people in remote areas did not have access to clinics and many were dying while still on the waiting list for ARV treatment.

“We asked ourselves how did people survive long back when there were no clinics. and we realised people used herbs so we said to ourselves why don’t we revisit herbal medicine,” she said.

“In 2000 we started mobilising people and encouraged them to set up individual gardens because we realized they would be more manageable,” she explained.

In 2006, Chirawu was transferred to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Harare where she set up the Blessed Hands Herbal Clinic based at the Harare Showgrounds. It deals with herbal therapy, reflexology consultations, treatments and training.

Herbs found at the herbal clinic include among others Aloe Vera, Apple Mint, Penny Royal, Basil, Borage and Calendula. These herbs are effective in combatting ailments such as hepatitis, respiratory infections, kidney and bladder inflammation, nausea, indigestion, fibroids, and herpes zoster.

“Our objective is to help people understand and appreciate the usefulness of herbal medicine as it has immense benefits and also provides good nutrition. We have so far been able to assist a huge number of patients suffering from various diseases through these herbal medicines,” said Chirawu.

Herbal gardens have been set up in Mabvuku, Epworth, Rugare, Budiriro, Mbare, Dzivarasekwa, Highfield, Chitungwiza and Mufakose.

“We have a processing place at Makumbe in Domboshava where the garden covers almost a hectare. We are planning to set up a centre for coordination of HIV/AIDS programmes in Chinamhora. This will also provide counselling services to people with HIV. We have also realised that stigma is still there in the communities so this centre will serve as a meeting place for people where they can share ideas on HIV/AIDS as well as the effectiveness of the herbs,” said Chirawu, who holds a Diploma in Herbal Medicine from the UK Institute of Natural Healing and has written a book entitled “Common herbs and their uses”.