Paying lip service to traditional medicine development
TODAY is African Traditional Medicine Day (ATMD). It is a day set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) African Region to celebrate African Traditional Medicine and chart the path towards better delivery.
Despite several studies that have demonstrated how Nigeria can make up to N240 billion ($1 billion) a month from the herbal medicine industry, if government provides the enabling environment, government’s inaction by not providing adequate funding has left plans to develop traditional medicine practices especially herbal medicine in the cold.
The Guardian investigation revealed the plans by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Nigeria Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to verify herbal cure claims after clinical trials might have been aborted due to lack of funds.
It was also gathered that the promise by the past administration to introduce herbal medicine into the curricula of medical schools has not been matched with any circular to that effect.
The Guardian also gathered that despite the establishment of relevant agencies such as the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) Lagos, the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) Abuja, Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company (NMPDC) Abuja, and some Colleges of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the country has not made much progress. It was reliably gathered that most of the agencies do not receive enough funding to go into research and development of potential novel natural products. Most of the funds received by the agencies are just enough to pat salaries.
In fact the production of the novel herbal drug for sickle cell anaemia developed by NIPRD and was celebrated even by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NICOSAN, has shut down due to poor funding and poor political will.
Also, a Scientific Committee on Verification of Herbal Cure Claims set up by NAFDAC in 2013 has identified 15 potential novel herbal drugs but there are no funds to continue with the development. In fact due to paucity of funds, the Committee has not met this year.
Meanwhile, this year’s, the 13th edition of the ATMD, theme entitled “Regulation of Traditional Health Practitioners in the WHO African Region” highlights the need to establish and strengthen regulatory systems in countries by identifying and supporting qualified practitioners and protecting the public against potentially harmful practices.
It all began in 2003 when Heads of States and Governments at their Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, in recognition of the role of traditional medicine in health development in Africa, endorsed the institution of the ATMD for advocacy since 80 per cent of the African population use traditional medicine for their health care needs.
The WHO African Region (WHO/AFRO) in a press statement yesterday said the significance of the ATMD is to raise awareness on the critical role that traditional medicine plays in improving the health of the people.
The statement reads: “The institution of the ATMD, coupled with the continuous support of WHO has impacted positively on practitioners, practices and products, hence contributing to improving access to medicines in the African Region. 31st August is the date the African Region commemorates the African Traditional Medicine Day.”
In Nigeria, NAFDAC is taking the lead in the development of traditional medicine and has been commemorating the day alongside other African countries since 2013.
Experts in traditional and herbal medicines will today gather at NECA House Plot 2A Hakeem Balogun, CBD, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, by 9:00 am to celebrate the ATMD with presentations on relevant topics on the theme and exhibition of registered herbal medicinal products.
Indeed, NAFDAC is blazing the trail in traditional medicine development in Nigeria with the constitution of the Expert Committee on Verification of claims of herbal products in 2012 to bring up guidelines on Clinical Trials of herbal medicinal products to be able to upgrade them to full registration status.
Director, Drug Evaluation & Research, Dr. Titilope Owolabi, told The Guardian: “Committee on Guidelines for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) of herbal medicinal products manufacturers was set up and has been sitting regularly. The developing of feasible and working guidelines, which will help manufacturers fulfill the Regulation on drug products as it affects herbal medicines, will soon be concluded.
“GMP Re-assessment of herbal medicinal product manufacturing facilities nationwide to bring them at par with minimum compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements
“Mop-up of unregistered imported herbal teas. Their manufacturers make spurious claims ranging from healing sexual disorders to mystic powers.”
Nigeria, in 2013, began an investigation into alleged herbal cures for the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), cancer, malaria, asthma, diabetes and contraceptives with the first meeting of the Scientific Committee on Verification of Herbal Cure Claims with stakeholders in Lagos.
The convener of the meeting and Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, said the country could develop herbal cures for HIV, cancer, malaria, asthma, diabetes and contraceptives with effective collaboration among the stakeholders.
Orhii said: “We have done it with NICOSAN for sickle cell which is accepted worldwide and so we can do it again by finding herbal cures for HIV, cancer, malaria, asthma, diabetes and contraceptive with proven safety and efficacy.”
The committee members include Prof. Tony Elujoba, former Dean of Pharmacy, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU); Prof. Uche Osunkwo of NIPRD; Prof. Martins Emeje of NIPRD; and Prof. Omon Olaebhiele, Chairman of National Association of Nigeria Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP).
Others are Mrs. Zainab Ujudud Shariff, Managing Director NMPDC; Dr. Olufunsho Awodele of the University of Lagos; Ben Amodu, Director of Procurement Ministry of Defence; Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Jawa, Executive Secretary Yobe; Mrs. Hauwa Keri, Director of Drug Evaluation and Research at NAFDAC; and Mrs. A. I. Osakwe, National Co-ordinator of Pharmacovigilance at NAFDAC.
According to Orhii, the major problem facing NAFDAC and the search for a scientifically proven cure for HIV, cancer, malaria and others is the prevalence of counterfeit medicines and quack traditional medicine practitioners.
He said: “Our biggest challenge is fighting counterfeit anti-malaria drugs. We have tried manufacturing artemisinin locally. Nigeria can generate billions yearly with this collaboration. But I have a problem. There are quack claimants and illegal advertisers of herbal medicines will attract jail term. We are not going to approve illegal advertisement and we will not allow people to hawk.”
Orhii further explained: “I have been very concerned about the proliferation of some traditional medicines, particularly the herbs, roots or other allied products that are put out to the public via the media, with ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims of cure for ailments, including serious diseases like HIV/AIDS.
“The unsuspecting public relies heavily on advertorials and it behooves us, as a scientific regulatory body, to either prove or debunk such claims scientifically so that people are not hoodwinked into spending huge sums of money for treatments that are ineffective and may sometimes be too dangerous to even cause harm.”
Meanwhile, NAFDAC and Paxherbals clinic and research laboratories in Ewu, Edo state, have started a partnership aimed to boost healthcare delivery in the country through natural medicine.
Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, during an official visit to the Paxherbals clinic and research laboratories in Ewu, Edo state emphasised that herbal medicine has a big role to play in healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
Director of Paxherbals, Fr. Anselm Adodo, said: “Paxherbals is the only herbal manufacturing company left in Nigeria that is still locally producing its herbal medicines, despite the harsh economic climate which makes it easier and more profitable to be an importer rather than a manufacturer. It is no wonder that the Nigerian market is flooded with herbal products from China, India and other Asian countries, and from Europe. By so doing, Nigeria is creating wealth abroad and promoting poverty at home.
“After a tour of the ultra-modern facilities which include the microbiology, Quality control, chemistry as well as diagnostic laboratories, the herbarium, production and processing workshops, Orhii expressed satisfaction at the high level of scientific research, quality assurance and good manufacturing practice at Paxherbals, which he believes is the best of its kind in Nigeria and West Africa. He therefore extended hands of fellowship to the management of Paxherbals as partners in progress.”