I first visited Dr Jack Githae years ago, in my teens. At the time, he had just one treatment facility; in Kinangop. The visit came after a worker tipped my mum about this guy that treated all manner of ailments purely from concoctions made up of leaves, stalks, roots and barks of trees. It was a long drive to seek him out, and even a longer wait in the sweltering sun, with clouds of red dust furiously rising from the rich soil. What was a curious sight apart from the long winding line of people waiting to be seen, was the group of women, all holding babies swaddled in shawls; babies that had finally been conceived after these women, resigned to childlessness and taunts they faced from village folk, had consulted with Dr Jack Githae as a last resort.
When we finally got to see him, he was soft-spoken, he watched, and listened keenly, nodded in empathy, barely saying a word except for when he prescribed this bitter brown concoction in a huge bottle; to be sweetened with lemon and honey. He advised a total ban on greasy foods. That was a bitter pill to swallow, pun intended..but I admit, I did get well.
Dr Githae has been a traditional healer in Kenya for almost 40 years and is currently the World Health Organization (W.H.O) Country Adviser to Traditional and Alternative medicine. He is a strong believer in medicinal properties of plants and herbs. A graduate of New Mexico State University where he studied Animal Science, and a former lecturer of Egerton University, Githae states that, “The whole world is turning to natural medicine, natural products, and natural plants. We shred them, we dry them, we grind them and we mix them and package them into the type of medicine we need.” He admits to having a good feeling when a patient has turned to him as a last resort, after failure to be treated by modern medicine; and then after treatment can go back to work and a normal healthy life.
Githae talks on the efficacy of his herbs, “Our medicine is more superior to conventional imported drugs because of being favoured, being more broad spectrum, more affordable and more readily available. You get it, when you need it, where you need it.”
He goes to the slopes of Mount Kenya at least three times a week. It is there that he collects bark, roots and leaves from the hundreds of indigenous trees and shrubs; often doing so, carefully enough to ensure the survival of the tree for future use. He believes that forest conservation is vital in ensuring the production of sufficient quantities of medicines. He as well processes the herbs himself, and can produce enough medicine in a day to treat various ailments for months. He points out to tree bark stating that, “This bark will be used for blood cleaning medicine. It may prevent grey hair; it may prevent joint ailments that go along with age. It is the type of material that our forefathers, grandparents and the rest have used for many years. It is safe, effective, stimulates and enhances sustenance of good health and long life.”
His very first clinic at Kinangop resulted in a spread of about 12 clinics all over Kenya; many patients come to him by word-of-mouth when they hear about him from patients who have been treated successfully. Githae, a strong proponent of culture feels that his culture doesn’t permit him to turn away any who are unable to pay, so even those with very limited means are treated of their illnesses. He attributes the breadth of his knowledge to his late grandmother, who painstakingly taught him about different kinds of plants and their medicinal value. He reminisces about earlier times when he would be a practicing veterinary doctor; treating animals during the week and then secretly treating sick people who would come to his home during the weekend. Now many years later and his trade receiving recognition from the government as well as International Organizations like W.H.O; he has desired not to keep the knowledge to himself but instead pass it on to others.
In this respect, he established ‘The School of Alternative Medicine and Technology’ (SAMTECH) which conducts formal participatory training and research in Traditional Medicine and Integrated sustainable technology. He has successfully treated conditions such as; asthma, liver disease, goitre, eczema, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer, among others.
Alternative medicine finally has a status in society, and is being seen as a step towards finding a sustainable and affordable answer to Africa’s medical needs. Green gold is here to stay.