Importance of traditional medicine in health care systems

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Dr Adetunji Alausa

The Federal Government has pledged its commitment to bolster traditional medicine through the implementation of supportive policies and advancements in scientific research and innovation, to achieve sustainable outcomes. Dr Adetunji Alausa, the Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, conveyed this commitment during the celebration of the 2023 African Traditional Medicine (ATM) Day held in Abuja with the theme: The Contribution of Traditional Medicine to Holistic Health and Well-being for All”. 

This came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Aug. 31 every year as the ATM Day in 2001 and urged all member states review the progress made in the implementation of the objectives of institutionalizing traditional medicine into national health systems to on that day. Dr. Alausa, represented by the Director of Human Resources Management at the ministry, Malam Hassan Salau, emphasized the importance of integration and cooperation between modern medical approaches and traditional medicine. The minister said: “We must ensure that our traditional healers have access to proper training, research, and resources, allowing them to standardize their expertise while also aligning with international best practices. This collaboration can lead to a healthcare system that is truly comprehensive and inclusive, benefiting all members of our society.”

He assured that Nigeria would mobilize evidence-based measures to support traditional medicine, which serves as the initial choice for millions worldwide seeking to address their health and well-being requirements. Dr Alausa also indicated that the nation would maintain collaborative efforts with such organizations as the WHO, West African Health Organisation (WAHO), and partners like the Chinese and Indian embassies to promote the development of traditional medicine for both local usage and commercialization.

He also pointed out that research has demonstrated a substantial utilization rate of traditional medicine in Nigeria, standing at 81.6 per cent, a statistic expected to persist in the foreseeable future, especially considering the anticipated rise in the global disease burden. He stated: “The Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Tinubu seeks to bolster the economy by prioritizing Universal Health Coverage which is expected to frontally address the nation’s healthcare challenges. The healthcare plan will also focus on encouraging and improving funding for local research of new drugs and vaccines. It is a well-established fact that many medicines have their origin from herbal medicine which is a form of traditional medicine.”

Dr Alausa went on to elaborate that Nigeria’s strategy for harnessing the potential of traditional medicine would prioritize favourable policies, institutional and political support, the nation’s abundant biodiversity, high-quality data, scientific research, and innovative approaches. He mentioned that the efforts aim to maximize the role of traditional medicine in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and sustainable development. Additionally, the approach will be guided by a commitment to respecting the nation’s indigenous resources and intellectual property rights. He acknowledged the significant progress made by the ministry in recognizing the role of traditional medicine in the country’s healthcare delivery system.

These achievements include the establishment of the Department of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TCAM), the revision of the Traditional Medicine Policy for Nigeria and the Nigeria Herbal Pharmacopoeia, the development of the Nigeria Essential Medicinal Plants List (NEMPL), and the compilation of Nigerian Indigenous Knowledge documents.

Furthermore, he stated that a database is being established to catalogue traditional medicine practitioners in the country based on their areas of expertise. He said: the TCAM department has captured over 350 practitioners in the database so far although only a bit over 230 forms have been returned. We have trained over 800 traditional medicine practitioners on various topics ranging from good manufacturing practices, intellectual property rights, good agricultural practices, processing and packaging of traditional medicine products. We have developed 12 Standards for Traditional Medicine in collaboration with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other stakeholders.” 

Dr Walter Mulombo

Furthermore, the message of Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, delivered by Country Director Dr Walter Mulombo, highlighted that the overarching theme of “Holistic Health and Well-being for All” underscored the organization’s dedication to recognizing the interdependence of health and well-being that transcends geographical borders. Moeti emphasized that within the WHO Africa Region, 25 countries have successfully incorporated traditional medicine into their health sciences curricula, with an additional 20 countries establishing training programs designed for traditional health practitioners and students in health sciences. These initiatives aim to bolster the capacity of human resources in both traditional medicine and primary healthcare. He also said that 39 countries within the region have formulated legal frameworks to regulate and support traditional health practitioners as African Traditional Medicine (ATM) serves as a symbol of accessibility, affordability and trust for millions of individuals throughout the continent. 

“With approximately 80 per cent of our population seeking solace in traditional medicine for fundamental health needs, it remains an embodiment of our identity, resilience, and heritage. We laud the strides taken by member states in nurturing the integration of traditional medicine within national health systems. From the development of evidence-based policies to regulatory frameworks that ensure quality and safety, from the cultivation of medicinal plants to collaborative training initiatives, our progress is tangible and commendable. And while we celebrate these achievements, we remain mindful of the path ahead. The potential of traditional medicine, in terms of research, local manufacturing, and commercialization, remains untapped. 

“On this occasion, I call upon member states to scale up their efforts and further implement evidence-based Traditional Medicine (TM) approaches to achieve the health-related SDGs and promote health and well-being for all at all ages. I urge member states to apply local knowledge, science, technology and innovation to unlock the contribution of Traditional Medicine to advancing planetary health and people’s well-being across the life course, through regional and culturally appropriate nutrition and lifestyles within sustainable environments. We must facilitate effective integration of traditional medicine into national health systems contributing to achieving Universal Health Coverage and all health-related SDGs,” he said.

He called for expediting research, production, regulation and the formal integration of evidence-based traditional and indigenous products into national health systems.

Dr Onyemaechi Uzu

Addressing the issue of quackery within the profession, Dr Onyemaechi Uzu, the Chief Executive Officer of Ruzu Herbal Products, suggested that one effective approach is to identify all practitioners through a registration process. “Currently, there is an existing database within the Ministry of Health that maintains comprehensive profiles of all practitioners. With this database, you cannot come and claim to be able to cure all. You will tell us your area of specialization, give us your contact and we will verify to see if actually, you are practising. Although quackery is a challenge, we have been able to get results in getting the real practitioners who are practising the profession.”

The author, Ngozi Ekugo writes for the Guardian Newspaper in Nigeria.


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