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The World Health Organisation (WHO) “Strategy on Traditional Medicine 2014-2023” places great emphasis on the integration of traditional medicine into healthcare delivery system in member countries, while it promotes the adoption of integrative health in the management of health challenges, as many more countries in the world are aligning with these strategies in their healthcare delivery systems.

Speaking at the commemoration of the African Traditional Medicine Day, organised by the University of Lagos, Department of Pharmacognosy, with the theme, “Herbal Research, from the Laboratory to the Market: Asian Experience”, the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board Coordinating Director, Kadiku Olawale Olorunkemi, said, while traditional medicine practice is a multi- billion dollars business in China, India, Turkey, with the money generated yearly bigger than the size of the budget of many countries in Africa, its practitioners in Nigeria are marginalised in the healthcare delivery system in terms of funding, capacity building, and involvement in programmes conception and implementation.

He said as compared with developed world like Germany, France, United Kingdom, among others, traditional medicine practice in Nigeria represents a substantial, largely untapped resource base and unrealised sector of the healthcare delivery system. He described as ‘saddening’, the uncongenial relationship between the traditional medicine practitioners and the conventional / orthodox medicine practitioners, which he said is as a result of wrongly held opinion by the later who sees the former’s practice as “ inferior, unscientific and unethical.”He noted that one major argument from the practitioners of conventional / orthodox medicine is on the efficacy and effectiveness of traditional medicine practice.

The resulting effect, Olorunkemi said, has greatly assisted the standardisation of herbal medicine and proper administration of dosage, thereby enabling the effective management of the six priority diseases.

“The limitations of conventional medicine is an undeniable fact because as of now, modern medicine does not have solutions to all ailments, and confounding information are coming out on daily basis on the inefficacy of some medicines and medical treatment processes.

“Stagnant conventional medicine orthodoxy will not allow for the full realisation of public health potentials available in traditional medicine, and definitely retard human progress. The acceptance of this reality by practitioners of conventional / orthodox medicine will help the healthcare system to harness the immense benefits available by traditional medicine in delivery of universal healthcare now and in the future,” he said.

The Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board Coordinating Director explained that the effectiveness of the healthcare delivery system is determined by the availability of human resources, lamenting that currently, there is shortage of skilled healthcare workforce in Nigeria due to several reasons.

The reasons he said are, high rate of migration, insufficient number of medical graduates, inadequate medical facilities amongst other factors.He said there are over 6, 500 registered traditional medicine practitioners in Lagos State, comprising traditional birth attendants, nine setters, Ifa diviners, faith based birth attendants and healers, Islamic, Christian and general practitioners, known as Elewe omo, and others.

According to WHO, the ratio of patients to doctors is 1:40, 000 in Africa, whereas the ratio of patients to traditional medicine practitioners is 1:500.Olurunkemi stressed that while the Primary Health Care centres (PHCs) and General hospitals are insufficient to provide healthcare services to the teeming population, a large number of people patronise the traditional medicine practitioners.

According to Olorunkemi, the role of traditional medicine in achieving universal healthcare is highly significant and cannot be underestimated, as its practitioners are major players in the provision of healthcare services in the country. “Therefore, there is need for conventional medicine practitioners in the State and the country at large to build a synergistic relationship with traditional medicine practitioners in order to enhance their capacity and integrate them into the mainstream healthcare delivery system.

“This will reduce greatly the amount wasted on medical pilgrimage / tourism to advanced countries for treatment of diseases and illnesses; allow for the attainment of universal healthcare delivery in the country and assist greatly, WHO’s strategies of integrating traditional medicine into the healthcare delivery systems worldwide,” he concluded.

The Executive Secretary, Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, Lagos, Ishola Williams, said, though, studies have proven the efficacy of traditional medicine in preventive and curative healthcare system, Nigeria is unable to prevent or cure ailments that are common to her, such as malaria, sickle cell, and its effects, all forms of cancer particularly breast cancer in Women and prostrate in men.

He said there are no platforms by researchers in Africa to meet with practitioners, share knowledge, experience and expertise, as well as to collaborate and cooperate for successful solutions to these ailments.

“In short, let us start with an annual National Colloquium from 2020 with Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Department of Pharmacognosy, Nigeria National Medicine Agency etc. We keep wondering why are our universities not bold enough to start a degree course in Herbal Medicine, just like Ghana and South Africa, in enhancing our Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS),” he said.

Williams said the Ministry of Science and Technology needs to create an IKS Directorate urgently, noting that Nigeria has a huge problem slowing her progress with all sorts of Associations and Institutes for Traditional or Herbal Medicine without a Federal Regulatory Body.

“The NMA has opened its door for Alternative Medical Practitioners, thanks to the Late Archbishop Atilade. We needed to ask again why there is no University providing the education and training for the qualification. He said the challenges affecting and facing the recognition of traditional medicine in Nigeria are clearly too many scattered organisations and levels of recognised registration systems, among others.

Also speaking, the Acting Head of Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos, Dr. Abimbola Sowemimo, said in order for Nigeria to achieve universal health coverage, there must be collective efforts between the traditional and orthodox medicine practitioners.

“We all have to come together to make it work, the traditional medicine practitioners, the researchers trying to authenticate their claims, the medical doctors also getting involved and the government support, the laws that are existing must also support the use and the training the traditional medicine practitioners and the researchers who will carry out the research. When we come together, then we can make it work. China and India have made it work. We must identify what our disease conditions are and what are our challenges and what are the things that are slowing us down here and begin to use them as stepping stones for treatment,” she said.


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