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Published On: Mon, Jun 2nd, 2014

Impact of herbal medicine in the Nigerian health sector

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By Evelyn Okakwu

Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine refers to the use of plant seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes. It is the oldest and most widely used system of medicine in the world today. It is used in all societies and is common to all cultures.

Over the years a number of factors have hindered the success of herbal medicine in Nigeria; recently the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyeabuchi Chukwu said the inability of herbal medicine practitioners to scientifically diagnose diseases posed a great challenge towards the acceptability of herbs towards disease treatment.

But the use of herbal medicine by various Nigerians has proven that herbs can go a long way in managing the health of Nigerians.

The Pawpaw leave for example is used along with lime and bitter kola leaves to cure many illnesses as some Nigerians said.

According to Janet Nmezi Johnson, an undergraduate of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN),for instance, “ I have used herbal medicine before. In fact before February last year, I was always falling ill. I got sick too frequently and each time I went to the hospital I would be told its Typhoid and Malaria. Any time I take the drugs I will get better; but after a very short period the ailment will start again; so my mother cooked some kind of herbs for me. It was made up of leaves from bitter kola tree, and bitter leave water and other seeds that I cannot remember. When I took them I had running stomach at first, then I took more and after a while my body became accustomed to it and I became much better.

The best part is that after that treatment I have not had any typhoid or malaria.

As for Mr. Joseph Udeme; an air official, he says herbal medicine is very good for human health. “I and my family make great use of herbal medicine. Many times we have used bitter cola leaves, Paw-Paw, Moringa and even bitter leave, with lime which we will cook and drink and it has resulted in drastic decline of our health problems”.

“These herbs are many so you need to know how to combine them. The problem is that some people just try their luck with it. They mix herbs without making proper verifications about how to use them. You need to get some guidelines from experts to do this”, he said.

Already the Nigerian Institute of Herbal Medicine Pharmaceutical Research and Development, is carrying out a research to determine the efficacy of herbs in the treatment of ailments.

Nigeria, as a country is blessed with large amount of natural resources. Most of which include the presence of vegetation which could be used for various forms of herbal treatment.

Part of the issues discussed by the Minister, during the Pre-NCH meeting was the inculcation of herbal medicine in the country’s curricular, for tertiary education. In fact in recent times, the issue of herbal medicine has been a matter for topical discuss in our medical sector.

The minister had stated during the pre-NCH meeting that the stake holders in the medical sector ware clamouring for the inclusion of herbal medicine in the tertiary education for the nation.

“Stakeholders are saying that herbal medicine should be included in the universities and other tertiary institution’s prospectus for 2015. We do not know how possible that would be, but we will try our best. You must understand that there are procedures for you to follow.

The minister had earlier, while briefing news men about the effect of herbal medicine in the cure of malaria stated that while there might be links to solving the health related challenges of

malaria, one must remember that there are medical criteria for including herbal medicine in the professional cure of malaria.

As if to agree with what Mr Joseph said earlier, about proper understanding for herbal prescription and usage, the minister had this to say: “There are subjects that medical practitioners need to be familiar with before credible success can officially be recorded by them on its use”

He listed the subjects as Physiology, Anatomy, Pharmacology, Chemistry, among other subjects.

“It is only after studying these courses that herbal medicine practitioners can effectively diagnose and treat malaria and other health problems,’’ he said.

The history of herbal medicine in Nigeria could be traced back to the ancient times before the advent of orthodox medicine, through western education. Herbal medicines have at various points cured countless illnesses for Nigerians at all levels. This is why the minister stated that medical practitioners ought to equip themselves with expert knowledge of traditional medicines.

Until this is done, the place of herbal medicine in medical procurement and use may remain controversial.


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