HEALTH ANALYSIS: Breaking the barriers against adoption of traditional medicine

By Joan Odafe and Mariam Akande, NAN

Traditional or Natural medicine is as old as mankind in virtually all communities in the world.

Even with the advancement in medical science all over the world in the 21st Century, the lives and health of most people worldwide have been sustained by the use of traditional medicine, in its various forms.

But one wonders why this natural way of curing diseases or ailments has not been accorded such recognition that the orthodox medicine enjoys.

Nigeria has a vast knowledge in indigenous medicine and to most of the people living in rural areas, traditional medicine is the only available, accessible and affordable source of healthcare.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 70 to 80 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on the numerous and varied services and products of Indigenous Medicine Knowledge, Healing Arts, Science and Technology, not only  for their healthcare delivery needs but also for social, economic and community issues.

“For most of this populace, it is the only source of healthcare delivery available, accessible, affordable and acceptable,’’ the WHO said.

In spite of its perceived advantages, many people are apprehensive when traditional methods of healthcare is recommended and show misgivings in adopting its use.

The Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) says some of the reasons people hesitate to use traditional medicine include, claims by traditional medicine practitioners (TMPs) on the multi-functional features of medicinal herbs and the challenges of dosage and administration.

Others are the crudeness of production process and administration procedures, the unscientific claims on pathology of diseases by TMPs, belief of spiritual dimensions in treatment of some ailments, occasional need for ritual and general belief that traditional medicines don’t have side effects.

Notwithstanding these limitations, there has been success stories and testimonies from people of the efficacy of the use of natural medicines.

Also, in recent times, herbal products bearing approvals from the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has been found in pharmacies, supermarkets and hospitals.

With breakthroughs in research, development and innovations in the production of traditional medicine; this method of healthcare delivery is gradually being dymystified and getting more patronage from people.

A businessman, Chukwuka Johnson, narrated how he used to suffer indigestion and backache until he used a herbal concoction that gave him relief.

“Initially, I was skeptical about using it but got a recommendation from a friend who had also used it; I feel much better now.’’

Also, Toba Ahmed, said he treated typhoid twice with orthodox medicine but didn’t feel better until he used herbal concoction that contained unripe pawpaw, lemon grass, lime and garlic.

“I was told to drink it while it was still hot; it worked but it was very bitter,’’ he said.

In its Five-year Strategic Plan for 2019 to 2023, the NNMDA says there is an increased demand for indigenous healthcare services and products, worldwide.

According to the agency, the estimated annual business volume of herbal medicine alone is over 100 billion dollars but Nigeria is contributing little, in spite of its huge biodiversity and bio-resources.

Speaking on NNMDAs Strategic Plan, the former Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, noted that natural medicine had not only contributed to improved health but also to the socio-economic wellbeing of individuals and the nation’s economy.

“Nigeria is endowed with a lot of knowledge about traditional medicine, diverse indigenous healthcare systems, healing arts, plant species and other natural resources that were of immense benefit to our people in the past.

“I am also confident that when this Strategic Plan is implemented it will assist in putting Nigeria among global players like China, India, South Korea, Japan and other countries,’’ he said.

Onu urged the agency to strengthen collaborations with relevant multilateral organisations, develop partners, both national and international, to ensure successful outcome of the plan.

Also, Dr Samuel Etatuvie, Director-General of NNMDA, says the goal of the plan is to lay a roadmap that will help fast track the translation of research and other development activities of the agency into concrete deliverables of products and services.

According to him, the plan will ensure that there’s quality traditional medicine education in Nigeria, build a high performing and relevant institution, while also building its character.

Other benefits include; helping to increase funding of research in the agency and conducting relevant research in indigenous medicine and Healing Arts Science and Technology.

Etatuvie says if the plan is well implemented, “it will assist in addressing current weak performance areas of the agency, especially in natural medicine products development capable of mitigating the challenges of numerous endemic diseases plaguing our people.’’

From the foregoing, it is important that relevant government and private sector organisations and practitioners of traditional medicine and healing arts science and technology come together to find ways of improving on the quality of indigenous medicine products to meet acceptable international standards.