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Julie Offoboche
Julie Offoboche

Fake drugs and high cost of treatment force a lot of Nigerians to use herbal medicines to treat their ailments

|  By Augustine Adah  |  Mar. 4, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

JOSEPH Ighalo, a welder residing in Agbowa, Lagos, was a regular customer at He Reigns Pharmacy, Agbowa, for more than one year.  All the drugs he  got  from the pharmacy to treat a resistant malaria did not work. He was advised by a relation to try herbal medicine. He agreed to try after much persuasion; So, he spent only N250 to buy agbo-iba and other mixtures to drink. The herbal mixture worked for him.

Nigeria herbal drug
Nigeria herbal drug

Like Ighalo, Titus Ujah, a civil servant in Lokoja, Kogi State, has made up his mind that using herbal medicine is safer than orthodox medicine.  The civil servant learnt to rely more on herbs when he discovered that several of the drugs he had been buying from pharmaceutical shops were fake. Ighalo and Ujah represent several Nigerians who are now using alternative medicine [herbs] to treat their ailments.

The efficacy of traditional herbal medicines and the high cost of orthodox drugs have given   more popularity to alternative medicine. This is why Julie Offoboche, a retired permanent secretary in Cross River State, at a conference of traditional herbal practitioners in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, urged the federal government to accord proper recognition to herbal practitioners as practiced in India and China. Offoboche who is now a herbal medicine practitioner, explained that on several occasions, there were ailments resisting orthodox medicines, which local herbs were used effectively to cure.

One of the alternative medicine centres is the Omoyeni Health Centre, Bariga, Lagos, which specialises in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The centre caters for all kinds of patients with all manners of venereal diseases. The high patronage experienced by the centre in Lagos, made it to establish a new office in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

But herbal medicine has not always been a welcome development; orthodox doctors have always stood against it arguing forcefully that there is no way of measuring the quality of drug administered to patients. Because of this, alternative medicine was neglected in the country by successive governments. That is why Timoty Ajanaku, a local herbal hawker in Ogun State for more than 15 years, lamented the neglect of herbal medicine by government for such a long time. “Now that several people and organisations have proved the potency of alternative herbal medicine, the federal government should inculcate the study of herbal drugs into the curriculum of universities that offer medicine and pharmacy,” Ajanaku said.

The good news is that the use of traditional medicine in Nigeria recently received a boost when the World Health Organisation, WHO, designated the country as the regional centre of excellence in herbal medicine research. The centre is responsible for  conducting research and development, innovation on drugs, diagnostics and vaccines. The Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, NIPRD, Abuja, was designated as the centre.

Abayomi Sofowora
Abayomi Sofowora

Abayomi Sofowora, a professor and former chairman of WHO regional expert Committee on Traditional Medicine, warned against non –regulation of the practice of traditional medicine.  According to him, the inability of the government to regulate the medicine could result in poor quality and administration of the drug. It is necessary for relevant authorities to regulate the practice of herbal medicine in order to ensure efficacy and avoid quacks,” Sofowora said.

A study conducted by the department of medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba, showed that agbojedi-jedi, agbo-iba, and oroki herbal mixture are commonly consumed by people in Lagos. According to the study, 33 percent of the respondents used agbojedi-jedi, while 27 percent used agbo-iba

Despite the wide use of herbal medicine globally and their reported benefits, they are not completely harmless. Experts fear that the indiscriminate and non-regulated use of several  herbal medicines may put the health of their users at risk of toxicity. Benjamin Isah, a pharmacist with Kano State ministry of health, stressed that despite the growing popularity, people should be careful of its side effects. He said lack of proper storage and proper prescription are some of the drawbacks of herbal medicine.

Isah enumerated some of the risks associated with improper storage to include dysentery and diarrhea. He said many people who take herbal drug without proper prescription are at the risk of endangering their kidney and liver systems. “It is not true that herbal medicine is bad but the problem of proper storage and appropriate dosage to be administered make it necessary for those taking it to be careful,” Isah said.

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