November 29, 2019

Traditional medicine, an alternative goldmine

Traditional medicine, an alternative goldmine

By Yusuf Hassan Wada

FOR many, especially in developing countries, traditional medicine is their first choice of remedy for any adverse health condition.

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This is particularly true for those living in remote or marginalised areas, where distance and cost are barriers to orthodox treatment. From my interactions with people from different cultures, professions and social actors on the subject of traditional medicine, certain answers have become inevitable.

This is because some people have misconceptions and or convictions about the field of traditional medicine that need to be unmasked to ascertain their veracity. No single answer had a counter-narrative that it was a medicine that originated from plants which were first used traditionally.

In Africa, medicinal plants also called botanical medicine, herbal medicine or phytomedicine have been used for centuries to treat different types of diseases. Plants have been the primary source of most medicines in the world, and they continue to provide mankind with new remedies. Nigeria, with its rich medicinal plant resources, a country that has a surfeit of fruits, herbs and vegetables is expected to have the healthiest people on earth. We also could have become a leader in the field of drug discovery.

The world’s global market for medicinal plants generates billions of dollars and the figure keeps growing yet, Nigeria is not benefiting. The few products developed so far are yet to be integrated into the essential drug list for use by orthodox doctors. Before the introduction of orthodox medicine, Nigerians relied mainly on local herbal medicines. However, a major obstacle to the use of African medicinal plants are their poor quality control and safety. Besides, traditional medical practices are still shrouded in secrecy, with few reports or documentations of adverse reactions.

About three-quarters of the world’s population currently uses herbs and other forms of traditional medicines to treat disease, according to the World Health Organisation. In the US and Europe, the market is highly regulated and extremely difficult to enter, as companies need to pass through rigorous tests before mass production. In Nigeria, there is arable land that can be cultivated for medicinal plants with a potential job creation potential that can open a new window for economic growth, yet there has been no encouragement and regulations.

Karabonde village, New Bussa, is the headquarters of Borgu Local Government of Niger State. The area is rich and blessed with natural resources while one of its natural resources is the availability of fertile land for agriculture. It is a resettlement town brought about by the construction of the first hydro electricity dam, the largest on the Niger River and one of the longest in the world. Traditional/herbal medicines in the area have impacted the lives of people.

At the national physique garden in Karabonde Village, there is a great potential in drugs development that has enabled the society to promote health, to guard against illnesses and to cure diseases. While strolling the place with a taxonomist, a traditional medicine practitioner and a focal person, one observed the presence of diverse medicinal plants for treating of different ailments, active ingredients, that could be developed possibly because of their accessibility, affordability, and acceptability to the local society.

Years back, a group of research scientists had come out with a groundbreaking study that may lead to the discovery of a drug for cancer cure from medicinal plants in Nigeria. The team, led by an erudite scholar and researcher, Marte Hussaini, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Maiduguri, identified eight local herbs or plants that are more efficacious than the drugs currently being used in the treatment of cancer.

In 2015, Hussaini presented one of his latest research findings to the Nigerian Academy of Science at the induction ceremony of Fellows in Abuja where he stated that some Nigerian herbal plants are more efficacious than the current drugs used in cancer treatments. In 2014, the World Health Organisation, WHO, passed a resolution on the integration of traditional medicine into the global health care delivery system. The organisation sees this as a veritable strategy for building a knowledge base that could enhance policies, strengthen quality assurance, safety and use of traditional medicine. It also called for creation of a national database that would prescribe how these herbal and medicinal plants can be used.

The traditional medicine policy for Nigeria needs to be reviewed, endorsed and implemented. We need a national advisory committee on traditional medicine and endorsement of the national traditional medicine policy. We also need the development of green form for reporting traditional medicine related adverse events to establish and strengthen regulatory systems by identifying and supporting qualified practitioners and protecting the public against potentially harmful practices.

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NAFDAC and other relevant agencies should step up their regulatory mechanisms to make Nigeria’s herbal products meet good manufacturing practices and global standards. As Nigeria strives to achieve universal health coverage, UHC, it’s time to promote a dialogue of understanding to revive, harmonize and scientifically integrate Nigerian traditional medicine with modern medicine to ensure quality health services and practicing.