Mariam Nantaba lives with HIV. She has been using bee venom as therapy for a year and says it has improved her health dramatically.
“It has helped me a lot, especially to boost my immunity, my CD4 count on my viral load is up which was not before and my skin is also beautiful”
Bee venom is a clear, colorless liquid produced by a bee sting. Simon Turner, owner of Malaika Honey, explains that the venom is collected using an electrified trap.
“We basically have a machine with an activation board, we send a weak electric current through the wires and what happens when the bees hit the wires, they get a little shock…and sting through the glass. .. and the sting releases the poison onto the glass.
Beekeepers make very bold claims about what a mixture of venom and selected plant extracts can treat.
“It helps us with these aging issues, if there are cancer cells forming in the body without your knowledge, those cancer cells will die, if you have a lack of appetite, it increases your appetite, it induces the sleep, a painkiller and it improves your skin looks.” says venom collector Tadeo Balisanga
But there is little scientific evidence to support any of these claims and little traditional evidence-based research on the long-term benefits of bee venom therapies.
According to Patrick Tumussiime, Ugandan commissioner at National Disease Control, “this stuff is not standardized and everyone does it differently, assuming someone is tempted to think they let me put more venom in to make it work better. .. I don’t know what effects it can cause.”
Bee venom extract is used worldwide to help people with severe allergies to bee and wasp stings. Tiny, but increasing, amounts are injected to help patients desensitize themselves to bites that might otherwise kill them.
Despite warnings about its wider use, bee venom treatments are gaining popularity in Uganda.
Atuhaire Scondina uses it to manage pain and mobility issues.
“This honey product helped me a lot as my fingers were paralyzed and my knees could handle walking well, but since I started taking bee venom I can now do my sewing work which was previously difficult”
And to meet growing demand, beekeepers like Adolf Bagonza say they are stepping up their production.
“We produce two hundred grams of venom a month and market it locally by mixing it with honey and consuming it orally.”
But doctors are warning consumers of bee venom against self-medication.
“When using bee venom, caution should be exercised in the amount you take. Ideally, I would advise you to consult a doctor or professional about this to advise you on how much you should take for the condition you wish to treat”, Jackie Nanyonjo – Doctor
Despite the lack of evidence, people like Nantaba are confident that bee venom therapy will remain an important part of their treatment for years to come.