NATURE itself is the best physician – Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) Greek Physician
It is believed that herbal medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicines available to mankind which has seen improved development over the years. However, here in Nigeria, a wrong perception by some elites in our society today that all herbal medicines are toxic concoctions with adverse reactions which should not be consumed has created some setbacks for the expected development and breakthrough of traditional medicine in the health sector. Most people are of the belief that the use of herbs to treat, improve or maintain medical conditions is old-fashioned or archaic. The fear of the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicine in treating or preventing human ailments has pulled many away from accepting and patronizing herbal practitioners and their drug preparations.
Due to easier affordability and availability of herbal medicines when compared with the conventional ones, most rural dwellers opt for the former. Also, with fewer side effects of herbal medicine and its natural healing actions, others prefer herbal remedies to orthodox medicines. It is observed that even with the advent of technology which brought in civilization and modernization in the medical sector, the consumption of herbal medicines has steadily increased over the years.
Apart from some risks posed by preparation and packaging methods, herbal medicines come with more benefits that far outweigh their risks. In fact, some researchers and natural health experts argue that the human body can only be totally cured of any sickness by administering natural substances, not by the use of inorganic chemical drugs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional herbal medicines are regarded as “finished, labelled medicinal products that contain active ingredients, aerial or underground parts of plants, or other plant material or combinations thereof, whether in the crude state or as plant preparations. Plant materials include juices, gums, fatty oils, alkaloids, glycosides, essential oils and any other substance of this nature. Herbal medicines may also contain excipients in addition to the active ingredients.”
Generally, the medicinal parts of a plant which include roots, stem, leaves, fruits, seeds and flower are used as the active ingredients in herbal preparations. These plant parts carry the chemical compounds with medicinal properties that are found naturally in plants. Traditional herbal medicines, when introduced into the body can perform either curative or preventive function depending on the preparation of the composition of that herbal mixture.
The medicinal property of herbs has also been proven to boost the human immune system. Hence, it is the reason why these plant-based herbal products are used as medicinal supplement too as seen in some herbal teas. Herbs are of natural source and are regarded as the best and most effective form of natural medicine.
In August this year, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, stated in her keynote speech, titled ‘The role of NAFDAC in traditional herbal medicine development and approval in Nigeria’, that the regulation and development of herbal medicine in Nigeria is being hampered by some challenges. Some of those listed challenges, according to the NAFDAC boss include poor documentation, lack of standardization and validation of methods and practices, lack of clinical trial of existing herbal medicines, lack of scientific proof of claims, inadequate number of standards for raw materials and lacing of herbal preparations with orthodox medicines among others.
The D.G of NAFDAC added that, “this snail pace of development of the sector underscores the need to harness, document, research, standardize and regulate traditional herbal medicines in line with international best practices. In order to enhance the development of traditional herbal medicines and facilitate its contribution to the national healthcare delivery system in Nigeria, there is need for strict regulation and control of the products by NAFDAC.”
Professor Adeyeye, in a bid to encourage herbal medicine practitioners to duly register and get approval for their products, further said, “To ensure the development of quality and safety standards for traditional herbal medicines, NAFDAC has established regulations and appropriate guidelines for the listing and/or registration of traditional herbal medicine products in Nigeria.” It was reiterated by NAFDAC that before any herbal product is approved by the agency, there is need for mandatory toxicology and safety evaluation report.
Apart from listing and registration of herbal products as one of the ways by which the food and drug control agency regulates traditional medicines in Nigeria, conduct of Good Manufacturing Practice through facility inspection, laboratory analysis of herbal medicines, product advertisement control and Post-Marketing Surveillance have as well been deployed. The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) is also collaborating with NAFDAC on herbal medicine research.
It will be recalled that sometime last year, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a herbal clinic in order to increase research and development in herbal medicine. We salute this courageous move by FIIRO as a good step in the right direction towards improving and promoting locally inspired herbal medicare.
Other government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and related institutions are urged to encourage herbal health researchers and practitioners to come out with their various contributions to this popular sector in the system. Maybe some day soon, the government may establish a parastatal for this increasingly growing exploration into nature’s resources, seeing the prospects and benefits ahead.With the guiding regulatory and research supports from NAFDAC and NIPRD, herbal medicine practitioners and manufacturers are well positioned to champion the coming together of tradition and academia in Nigeria for the delivery of a scientific herbal medicare alternative.
Consequently, the health of the general public is safeguarded when duly approved traditional medications are used. Not only will the fear of taking herbal drugs, which is being nursed by many be allayed, but also patronage will boost our economy. This way, herbal medicine becomes a viable alternative to modern orthodox medicine. After all, the man regarded as the founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said many centuries ago that we must go back to nature to get lasting remedy for our ailments.
Ojewale writes via [email protected]