• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Leveraging traditional medicine towards advancing healthcare in Africa

Lagos calls trado-medical practitioners to formalise businesses or face sanctions

Although Africa’s healthcare systems are still largely underdeveloped, the continent can boast of its rich natural resources. It is therefore imperative for Africa to harness its own potential and available resources, including traditional medicine, to realise good health outcomes and meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, “Good health and well-being.”

For centuries, traditional medicine has been the trusted, acceptable, affordable, and accessible source of healthcare for the vast majority of the African population. Still today, the majority of the continent’s population, particularly in rural communities, rely on traditional medicine for their basic health needs.

Since over 60% of people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) live in rural areas where conventional healthcare is scarce, exploring the role of traditional medicine to achieve the goals of universal healthcare becomes important.

Given the economic reality and cultural beliefs, strengthening the role of traditional medicine in Africa’s health systems will enable more people to access quality healthcare, which is a critical component of universal health coverage.

Traditional medicine in Africa: Opportunities and challenges

Traditional medicine refers to the sum total of knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve, or treat physical and mental illnesses.

Africa can harness traditional medicines that have proven effective in the management and cure of ailments afflicting the continent’s population, thus lessening the growing burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases on conventional health systems.

Interestingly, traditional medicine has continued to evolve and remains resilient in spite of much more standardised western medicine. Natural remedies are burgeoning in popularity in western countries and have a long history in China, India, and other places.

With the right partnerships and investments, African traditional medicines could find a broad global market. Hence, besides improving the health and quality of life of the people and reducing the burden on conventional health systems, exploring the value chains of natural medicine knowledge can foster economic growth and overall development on the continent.

However, despite these potential opportunities, there remains a significant lack of support and acceptance of traditional medicine use in the formal healthcare system across the continent.

Challenges impeding the development of traditional medicine in Africa include inadequate policies and legal frameworks, a near absence of documentation of practice outcomes and bio-resources, issues of secrecy and fear of loss of intellectual property and benefit-sharing, and inadequate clinical research data to validate traditional medicine knowledge, products, and technology necessary to transform these resources into innovative and commercially viable products with wide acceptance by clinicians and the public.

Given the indispensable role of traditional medicine in Africa’s health system, African governments need to address these challenges by strengthening collaboration between science, technology, and innovation institutions, traditional health practitioners, and the private sector to fast-track research and development and local manufacturing of traditional medicine-based therapeutics for the health and well-being of Africa’s people.

Strategies to strengthen traditional medicine in Africa – Nigeria as a case study

The period 2000–2018 registered significant progress regarding the integration of traditional medicine and traditional health practitioners into national health systems in Africa. 40 African countries have developed national traditional medicine policies, up from only eight in 2000.

30 countries have also integrated traditional medicine into their national policies, a 100% improvement on the situation in 2000. Additionally, 39 countries have established regulatory frameworks for traditional medicine practitioners, compared to only one in 2000.

In Nigeria, strategic public-private partnerships are being explored to strengthen the use of traditional medicine. Bloom Public Health, an indigenous Public Health organization in Africa, has partnered with the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) to support its capacity-building efforts and aid in establishing quality management systems that meet international standards of operating, as well as aid research to ensure the availability of safe medicines from local sources for the citizens of Nigeria.

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Bloom Public Health has worked closely with NNMDA, providing intensive training to upgrade staff skills and technical support for the establishment of the new NNMDA laboratory complex, and has successfully achieved ISO 17025:2017 accreditation for NNMDA laboratories.

By providing regulatory and scientific support, Bloom Public Health aims to position NNMDA to become globally remarkable in the research, development, documentation, and promotion of Nigeria’s indigenous medicine for sustainable integration into the national healthcare delivery system.

Bloom Public Health is committed to strengthening the trado-medical sector in Nigeria and beyond as a pathway to achieving universal health coverage in Africa. Among others, Bloom Public Health recommends that African governments invest in biomedical and operational research aimed at expanding the scope of accepted best practices of traditional medicine in national health systems; strengthen the capacity of training institutions to integrate traditional medicine modules in the curricula of health sciences students and health professionals; and promote public-private partnerships aimed at fostering investment in large-scale cultivation and conservation of medicinal plants.

In conclusion

To advance continental efforts towards universal health coverage, Africa must explore and leverage the opportunities within its trado-medical sector by providing comprehensive support for the integration of traditional medicine into healthcare systems across the continent.