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How not to develop herbal medicine, by experts


Herbal medicine. PHOTO:

*Paxherbal, UNILAG, NIMR fault critics of practice

Herbal medicines have from time immemorial proven to be potent antidotes to different ailments and its abilities to prevent, combat and annihilate acute illnesses from the human body system.It is estimated that 80 per cent of Africa’s population still use herbal medicine for their basic health care.

In many cases, this is the only option available and easily affordable to the teaming masses.

This field, according to experts can therefore no longer be ignored and completely relegated as a minor element of the total national health and well-being system.Despite the call to totally heed to herbal medicines for the prevention and cure of diseases, its usage has continued to receive huge criticism in Nigeria.

According to experts, the critiques, which include, lack of standardisation, safety, inaccuracy of beneficial contents, lack of scientific proof of its efficacy, difficulty in identifying chemical constituents, weak diagnosis and poor dosage among others are the biggest problems limiting the growth and acceptance of herbal medicines in the country.


The experts explained that when taken in their natural state, herbs benefit the body in various ways. Also, people can derive different benefits from the same herbs depending on their health needs.This, they noted, explain why the same herb may be prescribed for different ailments.

These were the submissions made at the 2018 Paxherbal National Congress held in Lagos, with the theme: “Strengthening Capacity for Clinical Research in Herbal Medicine: Challenges and Opportunities”.

In his remark, the Director of Paxherbal Clinic and Research Laboratories, Fr. Anselm Adodo, stressed that the era of describing traditional medicine as fetish, superstitious or irrational is gone, noting that, whether western or traditional, has the same goal of providing quality healthcare to the people.

He lamented that traditional medicine in Nigeria, has tended to stagnate through lack of exploiting the rapid discoveries of science and technology for its own development, which according to him, has kept a slow pace of change in comparison with medicine as practiced in the industrialised countries that keeps abreast of scientific and technological innovations to the extent that it is often referred to as modern medicine.

He said different herbal medicine outfits operate as isolated entities struggling for survival rather than as united organisations, recalling that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s (NAFDAC) mandate is to regulate all food and drug product, both herbal and non herbal medicines, but not the practice of herbal medicine itself.

He bemoaned the level of regulation of herbal medicine practice, which falls under the ministry of health through its Traditional medicine board, which according to him is non-existent in most states of Nigeria, describing it as “inactive, dead”.

Adodo, gave an estimate on the global health spending on diseases during the Department of Pharmacognosy, College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL) second yearly symposium, as it marked the International Day of African Traditional Medicine, with the theme: “Effective and Safe Use of herbs.”

He explained that available report predicts the world market for diabetes medications will reach $70.3 billion in 2018.

Adodo noted that the anti-diabetic medicines industry generated $35.6bn in 2012, and its revenues will show strong growth to 2023. He further stated that the value of the hypertension market in the major developed markets amounted to an estimated $40.0 billion in 2013, and $65.0 billion in 2016, adding that the average conventional cancer treatment costs over $300,000 (N100, 000, 000).

The Director of Paxherbals explained that cancer drugs are expensive, such as Provenge, which costs $93,000 but extends life by only about four months and Yervoy that costs $120,000, which given to patients, on average, an extra 3.5 months.

Adodo said: “The inadequacy of current imported, cure-oriented, biomedical model of healthcare is a major contributing factor to Nigeria’s poor health indices. The prevalence rate of cancer, hypertension, diabetes and other chronic diseases is alarmingly high in Nigeria.

The evidence that the current healthcare system in place in Nigeria is inadequate to cope with or manage these serious diseases and evidence from surveys has shown that many of the prevalent diseases can be prevented and managed through proper health education, healthy dietary habit, physical exercise and natural medicines.

On his part, the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Salako, said the criticisms leveled against herbal medicines are directed to their use as a drug, explaining that the idea of precise dosage only applies when dealing with chemicals or synthesised plant extracts.

“In dealing with such substances, precise dosage is vital to avoid over dosing. But when herbs are used as food or as supplement, precise dosage does not really apply. The body simply takes the amount of nutrient it needs and the rest are excreted. It is therefore wrong to impose a ‘chemical mentality’ on the use of herbs generally.”

On proper diagnosis, Salako added: “The issue of proper diagnosis is being resolved as more and more herbal practitioners employ the orthodox method of diagnosis before treatment.

Also, there is now better cooperation between orthodox medical practitioners and herbal practitioners. Some herbal clinics now work hand-in-hand with orthodox practitioners who made diagnosis and then refer the patient to the herbal specialist for medication.

On if herbs have side effects, he said: “When used as food and supplements, herbs have no side effects.

However, as a drug, herbs can have from mild to severe side effects. This brings us to the second criticism of herbs: that it is technically difficult if not impossible to identify with precision hundreds of chemical constituents that are in an herb.

Salako noted that it is high time Nigeria started integrating traditional medicines with orthodox medicine adding that “when it starts becoming something that is visual and open to acknowledgment, we will know a lot more about it and it should be lots more available.”


Also the representative of PanAfrican Strategic and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG), Retired Major-General Olasehinde Ishola Williams, stressed that the country needs to focus on Botany, Horticulture, Forestry, History of Indigenous Science and Technology, Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), Bio-Archaeology, Medical Anthropology and African Theology and Spirituality as Interdisciplinary and Multi-Disciplinary approach in order to be competitive globally where the above-mentioned subject falls.

He said the time is ripe for a serious dialogue between the professional medical or health care related bodies, practitioners, institutions, think-tanks, manufacturers and interested Non-Governmental Organisations for the urgent rationalisation of the present confusing situation that is impacting on the poor, women and the aged who are the most vulnerable.

This dialogue, Williams noted, is important in repositioning Nigeria’s traditional herbal and other related health care and therapy framework at national and international levels.

He, however, stressed that there is still the need for expanding National and State Botanical and horticultural nurseries, gardens and private herbal plants plantations across the entire nation.

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