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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK

World: Africa

Zimbabwe's 'natural Viagra'

Vuka-vuka is found among the traditional remedies at Harare's market

By BBC Africa Correspondent Jane Standley in Harare

Traditional healers in Harare's Mbare market have a remedy for just about everything - even a failing love life.

Jane Standley: Pleasure tinged with danger
Natural aphrodisiacs are big business here. Peter Sibanda is famous for his vuka-vuka remedy. "Vuka" means "wake up" - and Mr Sibanda says the remedy enhances male sexual performance and marital harmony.

[ image: Peter Sibanda: 'Vuka-vuka can rejuvenate a marriage']
Peter Sibanda: 'Vuka-vuka can rejuvenate a marriage'
"The couples go on a couple of years and they find they have little to offer each other - they're like brother and sister, " he says.

"But vuka-vuka - it can rejuvenate that situation."

Some customers can't get enough of the stuff. The strongest variety is known as Squirrel's jump - because squirrels are apparently very romantic animals.

Lyson Soke has been a vuka-vuka devotee for 20 years. He says it's delivered a happy marriage - and five children.

"My wife, she needs vuka-vuka because I want sex three to four times a night, every day," Mr Soke says.

But moderation seems to be the message from Zimbawean women who are selling more conventional wares in another section of the market.

"I like it for some of the night - but not all of the night," one market trader says.

Internet marketing

[ image: Beetles promise a hard day's night]
Beetles promise a hard day's night
Vuka-vuka may have been Zimbabwe's best kept secret for generations - but now the word is out.

Companies in North America and Europe have woken up to it and are selling it on the Internet - saying they got it from the traditional healers' market here.

And the slogan they're using to advertise it: "Africa's natural Viagra."

And the secret ingredient is Myalabris beetles. A fine collection of jars of the red and yellow striped insects is the pride and joy of clinical pharmacology professor, Norman Nyazema.

[ image: The beetles are ground into a powder and sold in the market]
The beetles are ground into a powder and sold in the market
He discovered that the beetle's defence system is the toxic substance cantharidin - which blisters the skin and also fills the sexual organs with blood for hours.

"That chemical substance is the one responsible for the tingling in your hipbone - if you want to call it that," Prof Nyazema says.

So physiologically, it works - but is there a downside? Prof Nyazema warns that if you take too much vuka-vuka, the result can be priapism or permanent erection - a condition which requires surgery - as well as kidney faillure.

"Once you have a problem with your kidneys - it's a Pandora's Box really," Prof Nyamenza says.

Aids fears

[ image: Aids has already sent death rates soaring]
Aids has already sent death rates soaring
With coffin makers, funeral parlours and mortuaries working seven days a week and in some case even around the clock in Zimbabwe - there are other criticisms of vuka-vuka.

There is here one of the highest rates of Aids in the world - it kills 240 people every day, 80,000 a year. Activists like Barbara Ndembesa of the Women and Aids Network argue that vuka-vuka encourages promiscuity.

"It is not helpful at all - because what we are encouraging is one partner, one faithful partner, and by using vuka-vuka it means they cannot stick to one partner because they cannot get the satisfaction they need."

At an open-air bar outside Harare, vuka-vuka is so much in demand that you can buy it over the counter, with a beer.

Traditional healers say they only sell it to monogamous male clients - with strict instructions not to take too much, or with too many partners.

But are any vuka-vuka fans listening? The pleasure it promises is after all tinged with more than a little danger.

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