(GIN) – Africa’s knowledge base was the focus of the third Walter Sisulu University Research Conference held this month at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital. Over 200 papers were presented at the three day conference. Titled “Consolidating Research, Innovation and Technology Platforms for a Knowledge-based Economy,” the meeting attracted delegates from as far as Japan and West Africa.

“We should be taking advantage of our own knowledge base,” said university head Dr. Somadoda Fikeni, “and base our research on our own experiences.”

He cited recent government housing projects which ignored indigenous knowledge in favor of modernism. “Houses were built with tin roofs, which turn them into refrigerators when it’s cold, but when it’s hot you feel like you’re locked in a microwave. But all along, African people have been thatching their huts to solve this very problem,” he said.

Sisulu professor Ken Mossanda presented a paper on African medicinal plants with cancer-fighting properties such as cancer bush (Sutherlandia fructescens), isibaha (Warburgia salutaris) and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens).

But Dr. Marykutty Mammen, who heads the department of medical biology at WSU, noted that rejection of indigenous knowledge is common among students. In a survey of first-year medical students, “75 percent of the students consulted traditional healers at one time of their life, but less than 50 percent believed that traditional healers and healing might help at times,” he said.

Because 80 percent of all South Africans use traditional medicine and 60 percent will consult a traditional healer first, “it is extremely important that medical students are sensitized on the role and presence of traditional healthcare in the community,” Mammen said.