Skip to main content

Notes from the Field: Dr. Ian Tietjen in Africa, Part 3

September 20, 2023

Dr. Ian Tietjen is a Research Assistant Professor in Wistar’s Montaner Lab, where he investigates traditional African medicinal compounds’ potential for drug origination against viruses like HIV. Dr. Tietjen travels to Africa to work with traditional healers to better understand the function of these compounds.

If you haven’t started this series with part one, click here.

6 August 2023 – Today we drove to several of the surrounding villages to pick up the healers and take them back to the Shumba Lodge. There were a few groups that went out; my group included Rhona and Jimson Richard as the van driver. Jimson is Richard’s brother and a clerk for the Tutume local government. We went to two villages in the Tutume area, including Mosetse and Maitengwe.

As you can imagine, building trust is essential to establish rapport — which, for me and my colleagues, includes meeting with the family and the leader to discuss how long the elder will be away from the village. We take the time to assure them that we receive no money for these educational sessions and that we always learn as much as is imparted. For this session, we show our healer collaborators how we do biomedical science by running experiments on plant samples. For this visit, we are asking all the healers to refrain from telling us any plant identities and keep all Indigenous or other personal and protected knowledge secret from us.

Our primary goal is to work together to support traditional knowledge with biomedical laboratory resources to better understand natural medicines from many points of view to support healers and their communities. After these meetings, all the families eventually agreed to let the healers go with us; the families even got their photos taken with us. The family’s children are so engaging and fun to talk to.

In total, we have 12 healers from across the region staying with us. There are women and men of all ages: young students just out of university all the way to elders. Some are fluent in English, some know very little, and some know a lot more than they are letting on.

Maitengwe Village
Goats in the Village
Eventually we got all the healers on board and fed everyone dinner in Tutume that evening.