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Advancing standard practices in natural medicine is crucial to Nigeria’s healthcare delivery

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The significance of natural medicine in Nigeria’s healthcare space cannot be overemphasised, as it helps in the treatment, cure, maintenance, prevention, improvement and management of diseases and other health conditions like cancer, diabetes, pain, infertility, depression, dental care and liver diseases, among others.

According to the Minster of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, many of the diseases that appear incurable through orthodox medicine can be cured with herbal medicines, as estimates show that, about 80 percent of people in developing countries rely on these medicines based largely on species of plants and animals for their primary healthcare.

Also, its remarkable increase in the last two decades has prompted the World Health Organisation to promote the integration of Herbal Medicine, as well as Complementary and Alternative Medicine into the National Healthcare System.

Meanwhile, the global market for natural medicines, which is estimated to be approximately USD100 billion; is projected to exceed the volume of USD5 trillion by 2050, as Nigeria contributes a very insignificant percentage to this global market, whereas, China, India and some parts of Europe have a huge contribution due to the enormous development of natural medicine products for export promotion.

However, its practice by professionals, as well as artisans cannot be overlooked, as the irrational use of herbal products threatens its safety and efficacy, as well as pose severe danger to the health of the people, which calls for the standardisation of practice in healthcare delivery from the collection of the herbal drugs to its packaging and use as medicine.

Some side effects of herbal medicines, which may be worsened by irrational use include, bleeding, gastro intestinal disturbances and hypertension among others. Herbal remedies can also affect the way drugs act on the body, either blocking their action or increasing their potency.

As part of efforts to ensure safety, accuracy and efficacy in the natural medicine space in order to advance the country’s healthcare delivery, the Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA), under the Federal Ministry of Science And Technology has stepped up move to provide solutions to standardised the practice in Nigeria.

The Director General, NNMDA, Dr. Sam Etatuvie, who spoke to The Guardian about the agency and its mandate to make natural medicine progress in Nigeria said: “As an Agency under the Ministry of Science and Technology, NNMDA’s mandate includes research, development, promotion, documentation and education on the practice, products and technologies of natural medicine in Nigeria with a view to facilitating its integration into the national healthcare Delivery System.

On the agency’s breakthroughs in herbal medicinal cure for diseases, Etatuvie said: “In the area of product development, NNMDA is working tirelessly to bring natural medicines to the consumers in a standardised form .

“That is, a dosage form that is palatable, accessible and easy to store. We have products from local herbs for enhancing male libido, treating malaria, repelling mosquito, reducing blood sugar and reducing blood pressure and two of our products are already listed with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

“NNMDA has done a lot of work on the documentation of natural medicines. The agency has publications on medicinal plants from the six geopolitical zones of the country. In these publications, various plants are listed with their common, botanical, Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba names, along with their medicinal uses and plant parts used. These books are available for sale in the Agency at affordable costs.

“The NNMDA Herbal Emporium is available for research, stability studies, counselling, consultation and sales of herbal medicines that are indigenous to Nigeria and also listed with NAFDAC.

“This is a public private partnership (PPP) whose main goal is to promote natural medicines that are made in Nigeria and support the economic empowerment of Nigerian natural medicine practitioners.”

On effective evidence based herbal product for chronic diseases , Etatuvie said: “The agency is currently carrying out research on use of some local herbs in cancer management. So far, the results are promising.

“Most of the patients taking our herbal mixture for cancer have shown a reduction in the symptoms and markers for cancer of the breast. Research is still ongoing and we hope to come up with a breakthrough in cancer management.”

On the agency’s approach towards ensuring rational use of herbal medicines among Nigerians, the Director General said: “The Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency has contributed towards the rational use of herbal medicines through various activities in the past. These include training of traditional medicine practitioners (TMPs) in the six geopolitical zones of the country, printing books on medicinal, aromatic and pesticidal plants (MAPPs) from the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

“Adopting rational use of herbal medicines is a good way to reduce cases of unnecessary herbal drug interactions, adverse reactions, polypharmacy and wastage. It would also promote safety monitoring.

“ It is, therefore, essential to furnish the general public, including healthcare professionals, with adequate information to facilitate better understanding of the risks associated with the use of these products and to ensure that all medicines are safe and of suitable quality.”

Improving practices of traditional nine setters and birth attendants, Etatuvie noted: “”NNMDA has conducted several trainings of traditional medicine practitioners (TMPs) in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. We shall soon commence entrepreneurial programs for TMPs on the sourcing, preservation and sales of raw materials and finished products of natural medicine.

“These are part of the training that we render to them. We believe that if you give them the appropriate training, whether we like it or not, our people go to patronise them.
“The only way we can regulate them is to train them to improve on their practice. We train them in personal and common hygiene in their place of practice and the steps they need to take in their production.

“ We also impact them with the knowledge on when do they collect their raw materials and how to dry them. If the active ingredients in raw materials are not correct, definitely the product cannot be standardised.”

Challenges towards meeting your mandate?

“Funding is always a challenge. You need funds to employ high-quality skilled workers. We need to also motivate our staff. Government has been very gracious to us through the minister of science and technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.

“We are developing our laboratory complex now and once it is completed and we have the basic minimum equipment for standardisation, it become a big plus for the country. We will use it for our in-house development processes, and also practitioners who have products they want to develop to meet NAFDAC listing and registration processes.”

Vision for Natural medicine in Nigeria?

“I am working hard to ensure that by the time I round off, there would be an improved access to standardised natural medicine products. I will leave the agency in a better state than I met it. We have our own strategic plans for the next four years. We will clearly identify our goals and things we need to achieve within those four years, which Nigeria will witness.”


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