ABUJA, Nigeria — World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as: “the health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, mineral-based medicines spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”
Many African populations, up to 80%, rely on traditional medicines for their primary health care needs, and they are often used as alternative to western treatments.
Africa is endowed with many plants that can be used for medicinal purposes to which they have taken full advantage. In fact, out of the approximated 6400 plant species used in tropical Africa, more than 4000 are used as medicinal plants.
Medicinal plants are used in the treatments of many diseases and illnesses, the uses and effects of which are of growing interest to Western societies.
Not only are plants used and chosen for their healing abilities, but they also often have symbolic and spiritual significance. For example, leaves, seeds, and twigs that are white, black and red are seen as especially symbolic or magical and possess special properties.
Nigeria is no exception as there is prevailing use of traditional medicines. Hence, the government instituted the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA). Formerly, traditional medicines were seen as an unhealthy, local, diabolical and disgusting way of curing diseases.
It is believed that only poor and illiterate individuals are the patronizers of traditional medicine, while the practitioners were regarded as witch doctors that took care of their patient with cultic powers. Practitioners of traditional medicine were not in any way seen as doctors; even the western trained doctors saw them as a threat to the well being of their patient.
The aforementioned situation is gradually changing as traditional medicine is now receiving wide acceptance, the general notion of peoples mind about traditional medicine are now being erased.
The truth is, traditional medicine involves the use of plants to cure various diseases. There are no synthetic or artificial additives in traditional drugs. In Nigeria, trained pharmacists now make research on different herbs and their capability to cure specific illness.
The result is that orthodox doctors now prescribe traditional drugs to their patients and the improvement has always been fast.
According to Adeshina, most Nigerians, especially those living in rural communities don’t have access to orthodox medicine and it is estimated that about 75 per cent of the populace still prefer to solve their health problems consulting traditional healers. Where such access exists, the rising cost of imported medications and other commodities used for medicines have posed a big problem.
Besides, many rural communities have great faith in traditional medicine, particularly the inexplicable aspects as they believe that it is the wisdom of their fore-fathers which also recognizes their socio-cultural and religious background which orthodox medicine seems to neglect.
Recent reports show that more people in the world embrace traditional medicine.
Adeshina further explains that there is abundant justification for the use of herbs by the various traditional healers identified. Disease conditions identified in traditional medicine include:
1. Cardiovascular disease – hypertension, stroke etc. for which the antihypertensive herbs, the African Rauwolfia and the Negro coffee have been used
2. Diseases of the nervous system-convulsions, insomnia etc. for which the parrot’s beak and the African Rauwolfia also offer a good remedy
3. Diseases of the alimentary system-diarrhea, dysentery etc. for which basil is useful
4. Diseases of the endocrine system-diabetes etc. for which the leaves of the common Roused periwinkle or Mormodica are valuable
5. Diseases of the respiratory system – asthma, cough etc. for which the lemon grass is of value
6. Diseases of the genitourinary system-gonorrhea, haematuria, etc. for which the bush banana is useful
7. Diseases of the skin-wounds, dermatonycosis etc. for which the craw-craw plant is very useful
8. Diseases associated with the ear, nose and throat ache, sinusitis etc. for which the resurrection plant is usually recommended and
9. Diseases caused by microbes, viruses, insects etc. – infections, malaria etc. for which garlic, clove, the African mahogany etc. have been found useful.
Agreed that there are quacks among traditional medicine men, but it is not enough reason to regulate traditional medicine to the background. It is now accepted that traditional medicine has a role to play in developing the country. There are government agencies that are involved with researches on traditional medicine. Their researches have revealed amazing result.
Traditional medicine has been successful in solving problems of female infertility. There are also herbs that conquer chronic sickness like diabetics and high blood pressure.
Leaves of local plants are soaked in water, the water now rich in nutrient from the plant can be drunk; the result of this treatment has been favourable in all cases with no side effects. Malaria, one of the leading causes of death in this country also has its traditional remedy. Conventional anti-malaria drugs are proving less effective and traditional drugs cures it thoroughly.
In sum, traditional medicine has come a long way, although more endeavours should be put in to make it more curative and hygienic. Since traditional medicine comes only from the natural world, man should use it for both preventive and curative medicine
– Adama Dickson Salami