Sometimes, in order to see the status quo, it takes a little distance. When MU’s Peace Corps Fellows return to the United States, they bring their global perspectives to the University of Missouri campus in order to open the minds of students, staff, and community members. Nathan Jensen, Jennifer Keller, Amy Bowes, and Andy Craver are among this year’s fellows. Their work in distant countries has changed them, helping them grow. Now they’re sharing their experience and newfound attitudes with MU.
Talking about sex is uncomfortable. Such a conversation about private matters can be tough whether the discussion is with preteens or doctors. It is even more difficult when conducted in two different languages. But Marjorie Sable, Professor and Director of the Department of Social Work, works to break down the communication barrier when it comes to family planning.
After thirty years of research focused mainly on exploring biochemical and genetic questions in the laboratory, William Folk, Professor of Biochemistry at MU, has been pushing himself outside of the comfort and controlled environment of the lab with his newest project. As co-investigator on this nascent initiative, Folk explains its significance for him in moral and political terms—that is, how the reign of South Africa’s apartheid government contributed to the rapid and devastating spread of HIV in Africa, the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic. In South Africa, where an estimated 5 million people are infected by the disease, Folk feels an obligation to do what he can to help remedy this devastating statistic. With this call in mind, Folk and Professor Quinton Johnson of the University of the Western Cape have orchestrated a large collaboration of over a dozen colleagues from universities in South Africa and the United States, generously funded by a $4.4 million grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Creating a virtual center, which they’ve named The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS—pronounced “Tee-Sips”), the center seeks to understand traditional healing practices in South Africa in terms of their safety and usefulness in treating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS and the conditions associated with them.
William Folk and Quinton Johnson (of the University of the Western Cape) have orchestrated a large collaboration of over a dozen colleagues from universities in South Africa and the United States to create a virtual center that seeks to understand traditional healing practices in South Africa.
The team has completed phase one of the project, which involved establishing the administrative structure for TICIPS and conducting a small-scale clinical trial of the safety of the South African plant Sutherlandia in healthy adults. The next step will involve trying to find scientific evidence about the plant’s safety.
The outcomes of this study will define a process by which these plants can be studied and evaluated. Folk hopes that others will be able to carry on with similar studies to begin to learn and inform the public about these plants.
Some of the challenges of this project have included building trust with traditional healers, but the American team members have benefited from the deep trust that has developed between the South African colleagues and traditional healers. Folk’s team has budgeted for compensation, preferred in the form of cattle, for traditional healers.
In its second year, TICIPS has three out of four projects underway. The highest priority is a human clinical trial that will take place in a hospital outside of Durbin, South Africa.
The answer to why Sub-Saharan Africa is known is the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic is complex. But Folk states that while “we don’t know all the answers, in part the apartheid government worked to destroy the traditional culture and society of South Africa,” which clearly exacerbated the problem.