Growing support for traditional medicine27th September 2011
In recent years, African countries have significantly increased their support for traditional medicine, according to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report.
Between 2001 and 2010, the number of countries in Africa with national policies on traditional medicine increased by several hundred percent.
During the period, 18 countries developed strategic plans for the use of traditional medicine as a form of healthcare, and 27 countries introduced nationwide regulations on traditional medicine.
Before the year 2001, traditional medicine was not part of the strategic plan in any country, and only one country had begun to regulate it.
There are also some African universities now offering traditional medicine courses to their students.
Karniyus Gamaniel, director general of Nigeria's National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), said he felt the issue of traditional medicine in curricula was important for the career orientation of students.
Joseph Okogun, a consultant phytochemist at the NIPRD, said he believed the additions to curricula were overdue, since people in technologically advanced countries already used alternative medicine, which included traditional medicines.
He also said that the reason for the sudden focus on traditional medicines could have to do with their lack of side effects, the fact that they are cheap to manufacture, and the fact that they can be used in combination with other therapies.
African health ministers are co-operating with the WHO African regional office to promote the further integration of traditional medicine and the regulatory infrastructure.
Luis Gomes Sambo, the WHO regional director for the region and one of the lead authors of the report, said that if traditional medicine became a matter of national policy, the plants would be used sustainably and their habitat would be conserved, as part of public health.
He said that health institutes in Africa should compile inventories of their own medicinal plants.
Tamunoibuomi Okujagu, director-general of the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency, said that although he believed the new policies were good for Africa, there was a certain cynicism about traditional medicine which revolved around the concept of possible fraudulent claims.
He said that introducing traditional medicine into schools would help to ensure that traditional medicines were dispensed in a professional manner.
He said that a number of Africa's health challenges actually required the use of traditional medicines.
Last year, 22 countries in Africa conducted studies involving the possible role of traditional medicines in treating sickle-cell anaemia, diabetes, hypertension, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.
According to the WHO, about 80% of all people in developing countries depend primarily on traditional medicine.
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