Where traditional medicine business booms
…NAFDAC wields big stick
From CLEMENT ADEYI, Osogbo
on daily basis, the Oja-Oba Herbs Market in Osogbo, Osun State, bubbles with business activities. It opens from about 7. 00 am and closes at about the same time in the evening.
Located adjacent to the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo, the market stretches towards Ilesa Road and accessible to people from different parts of the town.
At the market, herbalists bring large chunks of herbs and roots of different varieties procured from farms in the neighbouring towns, villages and communities to the markets and sell them as sources of traditional medicine.
They assemble and prescribe the herbs and roots for diverse ailments to their prospective customers who come with one complaint or the other.
Versed with the knowledge of the medicinal functions and efficacies of the herbs, the herbalists give prescriptions and administer the medicines to the customers.
It is the nature of the ailment, the quantity and quality of the herbs that determine the amounts of money charged by the herbalists.
A first visitor to the market who is not conversant with herbal practices would be scared of the avalanche of mystical items such as cowries, calabashes, beads, tortoise cells, feathers, pots, earthen wares among others used as parts of the processes for the administration of the medicines and or concoctions.
It is the oldest market in the city and draws customers from different parts of the state as well as the neighbouring states.
As you approach the market, you would begin to perceive the odour and/or “aroma” of herbs from a few hundred metres away. There is a shrine at the centre of the market where Ogun, the god of iron, is believed to reside. There is also a mosque where the herbalists as well as their customers pray.
The number of people that throng the market attests to the facts that traditional medicine is seriously gaining ground, unlike in the past when it was believed to be the business of the “babalawo” or medicine meant for only traditionalists.
At one of the shops where Daily Sun posed as a customer, enlightened people of different ages come to ask for herbs that can be used to cure ailments, either acute or chronic. When asked whether they had been to any hospital before they came to the market, they said yes, but that the treatment was to no avail, which accounted for their coming for alternative medicine.
Mrs. Mopelola Sande who sells and administers herbs at one of the shops, said there is no dull moment as customers throng her shop to patronise her on regular basis. While the chat was going on, a middle aged woman rushed to the shop with her sick daughter strapped to her back. She immediately demanded for herbal mixture for her.
Briskly, she handed the little girl to Sande and said: “She has been suffering from convulsion since she was one and a half years old. I have taken her to hospital several times but it refused to go. This morning, she started convulsing again but God intervened. That is why I came to get herbal medicine which I think can cure her permanently. Somebody told me that herbal medicine is the best cure for it. May be, it is a spiritual problem.”
Mopelola told her the efficacy of the herbal medicine that she would give her and assured her that the baby would be okay if only she could pay N7,500 for the medicine. But they settled for N6,000.
Immediately, Mopelola gathered three different types of herbs. She also went to one of her colleagues’ shops a few metres away and got a particular herb that must complement the three. Then she brought out a big calabash, stocked it with the herbs and handed it over to the woman with explanations on how to use the medicine.
Mopelola later told Daily Sun that it was not all the herb sellers that could prescribe as she did for the woman: “We don’t encourage the patients to come to the market without first of all consulting a herbalists. Many of us in the market cannot prescribe the medicine. I did it for that woman because I know the herbs that can cure the ailment she complained of. Sometimes, the herbs may not be available. It may take up to five days before it would be completed.”
She disclosed that the business was so fulfilling as she has been doing it for 12 years when she studied it for two years under the tutelage of her late mother who handed it down to her three years earlier before she died: “With the business, I have been able to assist my husband in training our children in tertiary institutions.”
Mrs. Omowumi Mudasiru is another herbs seller. She does the business in a classical way because she is educated and enlightened. Since she bagged ordinary diploma from one of the private polytechnics 15 years ago, she had never worked for anybody. She inherited the business from her mother and had vowed to bequeath it to any of her children interested in it:
“Apart from the fact that herbal medicine is very effective, especially because it can cure some ailments that hospital cannot cure, there is money in it. All sorts of people patronise me.
“It is not like before when people thought that herbal medicine is ‘babalawo’ work. Now, educated people are in the business because the medicine works a lot. It has generated a lot of employment for people, including graduates.
“I can only be fulfilled when I see my children selling herbs in this market because my mother is happy that I’m selling herbs here. It must continue like that. My mother too inherited it from grandma and it has been like that for long. We will continue to pass it on to our children from generation to generation.”
Mudasiru noted that traditional medicine was more efficacious than the conventional medicine, adding that it could be consumed without much preservation, unlike conventional drugs that lose potency owing to preservation with chemicals.
“Go and check the pregnant women and nursing mothers who take ‘agboo’ (herbal mixture) and you will discover that their kids are very strong and healthy. You cannot compare them with the children of the elite who only go to hospitals and perforate the body of the kids with different needles in the name of injection.”
While debunking the belief that herbalists are witches, Mudasiru flared: “As you see me, do I look like a witch? Do you see blood in my mouth? We are not witches. We save lives. We help people. Why should anybody insinuate that we are witches?”
Chief Ganiyu Adebayo is the chairman of the association of herbalists known as ‘Isegun Ewenje’ in Osogbo. For him, there is no competition between the orthodox and the traditional medicine.
He noted that both of them had their separate roles and complemented each other:
“Can any medical doctor treat spiritual attacks if my mothers, the owners of this earth (eulogising the witches) are dealing with their victims? Except that doctor is one of the children of my mothers, he can never heel the patient. He may even run into trouble and pay with his life if he is not careful.”
He said he usually advised his patients to visit hospital and undergo tests for proper diagnosis of their ailment before he would commence treatment with herbal medicines.
Though the popularity and patronage of herbal medicine is on the rise due to the current economic recession, which has made conventional medicine relatively unaffordable by some people, non-availability of medical facilities and personnel due to incessant industrial action also contribute a lot to the patronage for the medicine.
However, observations at the herbs market showed that its environment is largely unhygienic. The sellers do not bother about decency in packaging the herbs, neither do they bother about the dosage of the prescribed medicine, leaving their “patients” vulnerable to the side effects of the medicines.
The side effects of herbal medicines cannot be overemphasised as reports abound on how indiscriminate users of concoctions and other brands of herbal medicines died suddenly, while others were paralysed.
Dr Olusegun of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital (LAUTECHTH), Osogbo, alleged that herbal practitioners were reckless with administration of herbal medicines. He added that herbal medicine did not have any particular dosage nor label that could be used to identify its nature and functions.
He lamented that the environments where they were produced were unhygienic, adding that most of them, especially concoctions, were poisonous, leading to diarrhoea and renal problems. He claimed most kidney diseases had been linked to herbal medicines, especially those that were not tested and certified okay by the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
While ruling out scientific basis for some herbal doctors’ claims to have cure for diabetes, sickle cell, HIV, cancer among others, Olusegun said it was dangerous. He attributed government neglect of provision of quality health care as well as people’s lack of access to medical facilities to patronage of traditional medicine:
“Government-owned hospitals are not working maximally because of unpaid salaries. When they go on strike, people are pushed to traditional medicine and become vulnerable to its negative implications.”
On the way forward, he called on government to give priority attention to adequate provision of quality health care delivery to the people. He also urged government to promulgate law on illegal administration of traditional medicine on the citizenry by qualified and unregistered practitioners.
Following these negative implications, NAFDAC has continued to wield the big stick against the indiscriminate activities of herbal practitioners in the country, especially the quacks and unregistered ones.
Acting Director-General of NAFDAC, Mrs Yetunde Oluremi, lamented frequent reports and complaints of abuse, spurious label claims, illegal adverts and hawking of herbal medicines by producers and marketers of the products in the state. He warned that people who had made herbal medicine practice a source of livelihood without proper training and permission by NAFDAC should deviate forthwith.
She took the advocacy to the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, and sought his assistance to talk to other traditional rulers to caution herbal practitioners against illegal practice.
This, she stressed, was to enable NAFDAC succeed in its resolve to ensure consumption of healthy drugs and to safeguard the health of the citizenry.
Oluremi, who admitted the efficacy of herbal medicine, however, stressed that it was not an open sky where every self-acclaimed herbalist could fly.
She hinted that series of researches were going on at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development on some herbs to situate them appropriately with the health care delivery system.