Friday, 10 October 2014

Multi-disciplinary University Traditional Health Initiative (MUTHI): Building Sustainable Research Capacity on Plants for Better Public Health in Africa


Multi-disciplinary University Traditional Health Initiative (MUTHI): Building Sustainable Research Capacity on Plants for Better Public Health in Africa

Contract/Grant agreement number
: 266005
EC contribution
: € 1,992,045.00
: 48 months
Starting date
: 01/01/2011
: Quality controlled traditional medicines, Methods for clinical evaluation of herbal remedies, Research capacity development, Network formation between African research laboratories.
Project web-site
It is recognised that research must be a basis for better health throughout Africa (ref. e.g. Global Ministerium Forum on Research for Health, Bamako 2008, Beijing declaration 2008). As a consequence, the building of research capacities in the African continent that will set good standards for the development of improved health security and systems in the future has been put forward as a priority. In several African countries western medicine is not widely available, and the WHO has recognised the role of traditional medicine and its practitioners in primary health care as important for obtaining better health for the African population..

MUTHI is a Coordination and Support Action project under the EC’s 7th Framework Programme (Health). Its overall objective is to create sustainable research capacity and research networks between the participants in Africa (Mali, South Africa and Uganda), collaborating neighbouring institutions, and the European project participants, to obtain improved health in Africa. Halfway through, it has identified needs and started to develop and deliver research training programmes. The research institutions from Africa taking part in the project have started to implement research methodologies so that they are able to improve traditional medicines, identify bio-active compounds, and clinically evaluate and register medicinal products that are used for the treatment of illnesses that are frequent in African countries.


In most African countries so-called western medicinesare scarce and expensive, while the population is instead leaning towards the still living tradition for the use of herbal remedies for treating ailments. Several of the remedies used have never undergone any quality control, neither on the chemical/biological side, nor on the possible toxicological problems some of these plant products may give rise to.

There exists limited laboratory facilities, including personal skills, for analysing naturally sourced compounds, and clinical trials on herbal remedies are non-existent for most products. It is also important for the practitioners to improve their knowledge of intellectual property rights (IPR).


The overall objective of MUTHI is to create sustainable research capacity and research networks between the participants in Africa, collaborating neighbouring institutions, and the European project participants to obtain improved health in Africa. The primary research object is traditional medicine with a particular emphasis on the products present in water extracts.


At the end of the project period improved research facilities in the African laboratories, as well as improved personnel qualifications in all areas related to MUTHI will be established. So far the MUTHI project has trained personnel from all four African laboratories in chemical laboratory methods (WP2) relevant for the study and isolation of compounds from medicinal plants. They have also been trained in a variety of bioassays (WP3) related to illnesses frequent in their countries.

These methods are related to anti-oxidants being relevant to several illnesses, a-glucosidase test relevant to diabetes, acetyl cholinesterase test, relevant to various mental ailment and hyaluronidase relevant to wound healing. Additionally they have had theoretic training in the understanding of the importance of various methods related to the immune system. This is essential as the immune system is involved in all of the diseases occurring on the African countries.

Workshops and fieldwork (WP1) have given the participants good knowledge in how to interview the local healers in order to obtain good information on what plants are traditionally used for which illnesses, and thus to be able to select the plants to study further for the development of ITMs. MUTHI’s WP4 has run several workshops on how to write a protocol for performing clinical trials on herbal remedies, similarly, WP5 has trained the personnel from the four African institutions in how to prepare an MOU based on the laws in the different countries and how to handle Intellectual property rights.

Scientists from both Uganda and Mali have for several months visited the laboratories at UiO (Oslo) and UiB (Bergen) to be trained in research methods in more detail, and these methods were then transferred to their home laboratories.

Potential applications:

The total knowledge obtained through MUTHI should make the involved African laboratories, either alone or in collaborations with others, capable of producing traditionally based remedies in controlled laboratory conditions. They will be able to conduct ethnopharmacological surveys, necessary for choosing a particular plant, and then be able to chemically and biologically identify the plant’s important bioactive parts.

This will lead to the development of fingerprint methodologies for batch to batch control of the chemical contents of the product as well as relevant bioassay testing. Toxicological as well as clinical studies will be performed and the intellectual property rights will be handled in a correct manner. Properly controlled products will ultimately benefit the whole African population’s health, at a low cost, as well as increase the probability of locally sourced and produced substances.


Berit Smestad Paulsen
University of Oslo,
School of Pharmacy,
Sem Selands vei 3,
P.O.Box 1068 Blindern,
0316, Oslo, Norway


Øyvind M. Andersen
University of Bergen,
Department of Chemistry, Allégaten 41,
5007 Bergen, Norway

Drissa Diallo
Université du Bamako,
Department of Traditional Medicine,
Route de Sotuba,
BP1746, Bamako, Mali

Bernard Kiremire
Makerere University,
Chemistry Department,
P.O.Box 70662,
Kampala, Uganda

Gail Hughes
University of Western Cape,
SA Herbal Science and Medicine Institute,
Modderdam Road,
Bellville 7535,
South Africa

Jan H. van der Westhuizen
University of Free State,
Department of Chemistry,
Nelson Mandela Street,
Bloemfontein 9300,
South Africa

Joop de Jong
Universiteit van Amsterdam,
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research,
Kloveniersburgwal 48. Amsterdam 1012 CX,
The Netherlands

Merlin Willcox
The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford,
Rosemary Rue Building,
Old Road Campus,
Roosevelt Drive, Headington,
Oxford OX3 7LF, U.K. &

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Number of participants from the collaboration African countries in workshops related to all Work packages held in Bamako (2011) and Kampala (2013)

WP1 (Ethnopharmacology) WP2 (Chemical methods) WP3 (Bioassays) WP4 (Theory on clinical trials) WP5 (IPR and related problems)
Mali 2 Mali 2 Mali 2 Mali 4 Mali 5
Uganda 6 Uganda 3 Uganda 3 Uganda 5 Uganda 4
South Africa, UWC 2 South Africa, UWC 2 South Africa, UWC 2 South Africa, UWC 2 South Africa, UWC 4
South Africa, UFS 3 South Africa, UFS 2 South Africa, UFS 2 South Africa, UFS 3 South Africa, UFS 3

Other, 6 Other, 6
Other, 2

Other means persons from neighbouring countries.