#PHC4UHC: How traditional medicine can boost Nigeria’s Universal Health Coverage – Official

A hospital ward with patients
Patients in a hospital ward used to illustrate the story

Nigeria cannot achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) until traditional medicine is integrated into the country’s health service delivery.

The coordinating director of the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board, Kadiku Olorunkemi, said, “conventional medicine has failed us and now everybody is going back to the use of herbs.”

He, however, did not provide any data to back up his claim.

He said “we would be wasting our time” if the government fails to involve alternative medicine in any plan towards UHC.

The official spoke Friday while addressing some Senior Executive Course participants of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the state.

The NIPPS delegation toured the state’s health sector throughout last week. The visit was coordinated by NIPSS in collaboration with the Development Research and Project Centre (DRPC) through PACFAH@Scale.

Mr Olorunkemi criticised the reliance on conventional medicine, saying it causes more harm than good.

“Before the advent of conventional medicine, we have been treating ourselves with herbs. Now with this orthodox drugs, more problems have been introduced. We now have cancer and kidney problems.

“We no longer eat natural food; we now eat GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).”

The official warned Nigerians to “stop buying all these synthetic medicines because some of their procedures and treatment are failing.

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“I heard that chemotherapy now causes more cancer than solving the problem.”

An alternative goldmine

The potentials of traditional or alternative medicine for huge financial returns and boosting healthcare delivery have long been recognised across the world.

Countries, mostly in Asia, make huge export earnings from herbal drugs after years of standardisation and regulation of the practice.

Despite these potentials, little attempt has been made by the Nigerian government to advance the practice, even though millions of citizens now turn to herbal medication.

The Traditional Medicine Policy for Nigeria was introduced in 2007. It was followed with the establishment of the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA), and the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD).

These laws and agencies, if backed by political will and adequate funding, would have made the system operational.

Two years ago, the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, said Nigeria has developed a plan to start exporting herbal medicine, the Guardian Newspaper reported. Today, nothing is heard of that plan.

In his presentation on Friday, Mr Olorunkemi described traditional medicine as neglected and underrated.

“We don’t appreciate what we have. This is a very important sector that will drive Nigeria’s health sector.”

He, however, said the government is already moving in the right direction by trying to synergize and integrate herbal medicine into the health service system.

Describing traditional medicine as an untapped goldmine, the official urged Nigerians to invest in the practice.

“The return on investment will be higher than what they will get when they set up factories, quote me”.

Concerns

The explosion in the sale of natural medicines across the country has raised concerns.

The products on sale include Ginseng Root, Megacin Root, Goko Cleanser, Onum Bitters, Ashetu Bitters, Endocin Powder, and Rinbacin Powder.

Though medical practitioners agree that herbs could be used as an alternative source for cure, they, however, noted a danger as the medication is not standardised.

Business Day Newspaper reported how Health experts raised alarm over the proliferation of traditional medicines across the country, saying such drugs may come with adverse effects that the herbalists themselves may not even know of.

They point to poor regulation and the country’s poorly developed health sector as the reasons that these drugs are proliferating with reckless abandon.

Most of the questions thrown at the Lagos coordinator of traditional medicine practice in his Friday presentation bordered on dosage and certification of the contents of the drugs.

When asked to explain why some of the herbal drugs are mixed with hot alcoholic drinks such as dry gin, he said such strong drinks activate the ingredients in the drugs.

He also said water can be used in place of the hot drinks.

Government might be playing the Ostrich – NIPSS

“Traditional medicine practice in Nigeria is uncoordinated and unregulated”, said Nasirudeen Usman, the team lead of the NIPSS delegation, in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

“There are efforts to address this. It’s happening in Lagos as you can see. Countries like China and India largely depend on herbal drugs and they have developed the sector. They now export their products.

“Millions of Nigerians use these drugs and the government will be playing the ostrich if we overlook it.

“We need to do a lot in the area of regulation. There are a lot of quacks in the system. The operationalisation of the system has a lot of challenges may be in terms of administering the medication; how much you need to take in terms of dosage; whether those drugs have some side effects.

“These are issues that need to be observed because the attraction to herbal medication is of two folds: The informality in the system, you can go to the house of the traditional medicine man or meet him in the street; and secondly, it is cheap, very cheap compared to the orthodox.”

Mr Usman urged the government to invest in research and the development of traditional medicine so as to address the concerns raised about the drugs.

‘How we prevent quackery’

Mr Olorunkemi said traditional medical coordinators in Lagos have set out modalities to fish out quacks undermining the profession.

“Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board regulates the code of conduct and traditional medical practice and we have our members practising all over the state.

“There are a lot of wrong notions and perception about traditional practice and many people view it as fetish and spiritual, which is why many people feel orthodox medicine is better than traditional medicine,” he said

The coordinating director said the board inaugurated a task force in April to eliminate quackery in the system and so far had impounded vehicles of non-professional vendors. He also said arrests had been made.

“Those that have been arrested who are not able to provide their certificate of registration with the board, as well as laboratory composition of their products, will be prosecuted”, he noted.

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