Medical pluralism on Mfangano Island: use of medicinal plants among persons living with HIV/AIDS in Suba District, Kenya

J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 May 17;135(2):501-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.03.051. Epub 2011 Mar 31.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Given the increasing coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV/AIDS treatment as well as the high utilization of herbal medicine, many persons living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are thought to practice medical pluralism, or the adoption of more than one medical system for their care and treatment. Using a cross-sectional study we sought to document and identify the herbal medicines used by persons living with HIV/AIDS on Mfangano Island, Suba District, Nyanza Province, Kenya.

Materials and methods: We interviewed herbalists and knowledgeable mothers to obtain information regarding medicinal plants, particularly for HIV/AIDS-related symptoms, HIV/AIDS, and chira (an illness concept with similarities to HIV/AIDS regarding sexual transmission and wasting symptoms). Using systematic sampling, 67 persons living with HIV/AIDS (49 of whom were receiving ART) were selected from an Mfangano Island health clinic and participated in semi-structured interviews.

Results: Interviews with herbalists and mothers identified 40 plant species in 37 genera and 29 families that a person with HIV/AIDS or chira could use for herbal remedies. Overall, 70.1% of persons living with HIV/AIDS had used medicinal plants after HIV diagnosis, most commonly to treat symptoms related to HIV/AIDS. In addition to common vegetables and fruits that can serve medicinal purposes, Azadirachta indica A. Juss. (Meliaceae), Carissa edulis (Forssk.) Vahl (Apocynaceae), and Ximenia americana L. (Olacaceae) were the most frequently cited medicinal plants used by persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Conclusions: Collaboration and communication between biomedical clinicians and herbalists should be encouraged given high rates of concomitant ART-herb usage. Pharmacological, toxicological, and ART-herb interaction studies based on the plants identified in this study and their constituent ingredients should be considered.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / therapy*
  • History, 16th Century
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Young Adult