To Be Or Not To Be

David Mark

In and out of the legislature, the issue of legalising the practice of alternative medicine in Nigeria always assumes a passionate debate in favour or against it. So it was in the Senate when a Bill for this purpose came up for deliberation on the floor

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Jun. 9, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

WHENEVER he gets the chance to talk about his life, Kennedy Emmanuel, a popular beggar in Nyanya, Abuja, describes himself as an ‘extremely lucky’ man who has been through the shadows of death. The aspect of his story which continues to intrigue many listeners even though they have heard it several times, is his four-month stay in a government hospital after surviving a ghastly motor accident.

According to him, he would have died in the hospital after the accident if he had not been transferred from the hospital to an alternative medicine clinic where a bone-setter saved his right leg from being amputated. “The hospital people didn’t know what to do and they abandoned me. I was at the risk of losing both legs because they had told me it would be amputated even though I knew the injuries were not as bad as that of the left leg which had been amputated. Somebody advised my brother to take me to a local bone setter where I was eventually treated. I can still use this one leg today because the woman saved me”, he often says.

Senator Abdul Ningi

Emmanuel’s story is similar to that of Babajide Kuponiyi, who had gunshot wounds after he was attacked by some armed robbers at the Abuja-Lokoja expressway. According to him, when he was taken to the hospital, the doctors rejected him because he was bleeding profusely. Thankfully for him, some good Samaritans took him to an alternative medicine practitioner in Lokoja, where the bullets lodged in his body were removed.

“There is nothing they do in hospitals that these people cannot do. People tend to think they are evil because they use herbs but there is nothing wrong in that. Everything they use is a gift from God and we must appreciate that.

The practice and use of alternative medicine continues to generate mixed reactions anytime it comes up. While many keeping on making a case for it to be recognised as a formal means of treatment, advocates of orthodox medicine do not even want to talk about it.

The debate for the recognition of alternative medicine took centre stage on the floor of the Nigerian Senate on Thursday May 22, 2014 as the lawmakers considered a bill for the establishment of the college of complementary and alternative medicine.

Sponsored by Senator Clever Ikisipo, the Bill seeks the formal registration of an alternative medicine centre that would provide training for those interested in the practice of alternative medicine.

Leading the debate, Ikisipo said if passed, the bill would provide constitutional backing for the federal college of complementary and alternative medicine, created as an agency under the Federal Ministry of Health in 2007. According to him, the college would be solely responsible for the training and retraining of alternative medicine practitioners in the health care sector.

He explained that ensuring legislative backing for the college would ultimately complement federal government’s efforts at encouraging alternative medicine practice which had already been embraced by medical practitioners in most European, Asian and African countries.

He said: “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine is the branch of medicine whose philosophy is grounded in the enhancement of the body’s own healing power through the use of natural means.

Kenedy Emmanuel

“This branch of medicine is coming to the forefront of health care in most Asian countries,  African countries,  European countries and America today, thus having the effect of a healthier and stronger society and enhancing our very valuable human resources. “

Since its establishment in 2007, he said the college had done research into various remedies that can cure major diseases like cancer, cholera, as well as advanced management and cure of HIV/AIDS.

Rising in support of the Bill, Senator Helen Esuene said that Nigerians had been practicing alternative medicine over the years because it has proved to be effective in African societies. She described alternative medicine as a form of treatment using natural plants, animals and organic objects.

Speaking in the same vein, James Manager said there is hardly any disease that has no cure in alternative medicine adding that it had proved to be very effective especially in Africa because it is completely natural.

Manager stressed that the establishment of Alternative Medicine College was long overdue stating that even the then colonial masters in Africa had recognized and endorsed it as a form of therapy. He noted that the Bill would be very important in the improvement of healthcare delivery in Nigeria and urged his colleagues to support it. Also speaking in favour of the Bill, Senator Abdul Ningi said it was long overdue adding that alternative medicine had been practised in Nigeria even before colonial rule.

But despite the overwhelming support the Bill received, some senators cautioned against the establishment of the college, which according to them, would be giving legal backing to alternative medicine.

One of them was Senator Benedict Ayade, who advised his colleagues to tread carefully before legalising the practice of alternative medicine. According to him, issues such as dosage, side effects and other things which are not properly explained in alternative medicine must the sorted out. Ayade’s views were supported by Senate President, David Mark, who, in his remarks, warned against what he described as allowing alternative medicine practice to go beyond the usage of herbs.

Clever Isikipo

Mark said: “We should be careful. This is because most of the native doctors do incantations and people say they get well. Would you take that as one of the things the College would encourage? There are areas where we just need to exercise a bit of caution. Sometimes, when you are sick in the village, they do not give you anything to drink. They just give you something to tie on your waist or to carry in your pocket and then it is assumed that you would recover.

“We should try and be careful so that we don’t go beyond the limit. Also I know that for those who come from the South East, in particular, in Anambra State or Onitsha, you know they sell medicine there that they say is the killer of 77 diseases. Just one small bottle and they market it very well and people buy it and it is in hot demand. I think that is the kind of thing the College should look at.

“Establishing the College is not the problem, it is what would be taught in it and the limit of what would be regarded as the subjects to be taught that I think we need to look at. Maybe after this, we would get another agency that would try to regulate the subject and what will be taught in the College. I think we should all support this Bill,” he said.

Like the lawmakers, ordinary Nigerians are also divided over the legalization of alternative medicine. While a few approve it, many are clearly against it. Chris Aduba, a pharmacist in Abuja, said alternative medicine in Nigeria has not developed to that point where it should be legalised. “In China, they use Ginseng which is purely herbal. Their government is able to regulate it because they know the content and composition. But here, no one knows the content. They just sell anything to people so it is really hard to regulate them. I think the lawmakers should ask serious questions before approving the establishment of this college.

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