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Harmonising policies, practices of traditional medicine in Nigeria

By Oluwatosin Areo
12 October 2017   |   3:45 am
The President of Bioresources Development and Conservation Group (BDCG), Prof. Maurice Iwu, hinged on the need for traditional medicine to protect their intellectual property in order to transform knowledge into wealth.

The President of Bioresources Development and Conservation Group (BDCG), Prof. Maurice Iwu, hinged on the need for traditional medicine to protect their intellectual property in order to transform knowledge into wealth.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has said that the federal government of Nigeria is making efforts to develop traditional medicine through proper regulation, research and development and training.

The minister who was represented by Babatunde Lawal at the International Conference on Indigenous Traditional Knowledge said that if the traditional health care were properly harnessed, it would help create job opportunities and improve the country’s economy.

The conference was organised by PaxHerbals Clinic and Research Laboratories and its subsidiary Ofure (Pax) Integral Research and Development Initiative (OFIRDI) in partnership with the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNDA) Victoria Island Lagos, the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), and the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

The theme of the two-day conference is “The Contribution of Indigenous Knowledge in Stimulating Integral Development in Nigeria and Africa.”

Adewole said this year’s theme is very apt especially because the government is doing all it can to diversify the economy and also patronize local contents. He said traditional medicine is well positioned to play strategic role in diversifying the economy as a natural resource. Apart from integration into the health sector, it is also capable of creating wealth.

The minister emphasised that the traditional medicine unit in the ministry of health is being scaled up to a division and would soon be upgraded to a full-fledged department under the federal ministry.

On the issue of formal training of herbal medicine practitioners, Adewole said that not too long time from now, there would be training of herbal complementary and alternative medicine practitioner degree, which would commence at first degree level in some of the federal universities. “A draft curriculum has been produced to this effect through joint effort of relevant stakeholders including the Nigerian university,” he added.

The aim of the conference was to bring together researchers, scientists, research scholars, entrepreneurs, health care practitioners and health technologists to discuss, exchange and share their experiences and research results in all aspects of indigenous knowledge in health care and health policy, traditional medicine research and practice, community development, local innovations in agriculture, biodiversity, solar technology and business enterprise.

The participants said there is an urgent need to critically examine current approaches to education, healthcare, technologies, enterprise, agriculture and development in Nigeria, and propose new methodologies, new approaches and new action plans.

They said the common thread weaving these diverse topics together is the need to stimulate integral development in Nigeria and in Africa. “As such, this conference focuses on applying trans-disciplinary approach to issues of development in Nigeria, transcending dichotomies that have tended to impede rather than stimulate sustainable development in Nigeria.”

The President of Bioresources Development and Conservation Group (BDCG), Prof. Maurice Iwu, hinged on the need for traditional medicine to protect their intellectual property in order to transform knowledge into wealth.

“Gone are the days when traditional healers hide knowledge and eventually die with it without teaching others. If one refuses to patent his cure for any disease, scientists can get the drugs, reverse the component and the originator gets nothing for it,” he argued.

Iwu added that patenting herbs and roots gives it the international standard backup that is required for its sustenance. Addressing the topic, “African traditional medicine research and development,” the Professor of Pharmacognosy said that in-depth research and proper record keeping would light the path to knowledge and preserve our national heritage.

He further noted that, “Bio informatics, which is far back as 20 years ago is set on collecting random works on medicine. We have the expertise, inherent to connect the dot, it is high time we get started to close the gulf between orthodox and traditional medicine.”

Emphasising the achievement in traditional healthcare, Iwu said, a computer assisted diagnosis for traditional medicine computer has been introduced and can now do most of what the traditional healer can do, although the system cannot give scientific explanation of mystical diseases.

Adding that the indigenous knowledge on traditional medicine cannot be bought or manipulated, he said, it is inherited, and its practices can only be taught based on cultural history.

Advocating the translational medicine approach, Iwu said that it is to inculcate the modern practices into traditional treatment, in which the patient would go for clinical evaluation and later referred to the traditional care.

In addition, Iwu noted that what makes African medicine unique is its personalistic healthcare service delivery, unlike the modern medicine that generalizes medication.

“Herbal medicine is the same as the synthetic drugs just that the source is different. This dichotomy has led to the slow growth of traditional medicine healing. What is more important is that no single herb is taken exclusively,” he noted.

Some wonder why most of the medicine given by the traditional doctors is to be ingested, it is because microorganism in the stomach regulates 80 per cent of the body.

Director of PaxHerbals, Rev. Fr. Anselm Adodo, said the conference refers to indigenous knowledge systems as knowledge employed and applied to solve problems before the colonial interventions in the evolution of Africa. “It involves what the indigenous people know and do, and what they have known and done for generations. Unfortunately, these knowledge systems are fast eroding due to colonialism, commercialisation, globalisation, lack of proper commodification and codification. The neglect of this aspect of knowledge systems is not only of a great loss to Nigeria but also Africa and the whole world,” he said.

The Catholic Monk said: “It has been reported that between 300 and 500 million indigenous peoples speak a vast majority of world languages and represent the majority of cultural diversity and knowledge systems we must preserve for posterity. It is this unexplored, neglected yet significant aspect of knowledge systems that the conference intends to rejuvenate and reinvigorate so that it can be harnessed so as to stimulate integral development in Nigeria.”