• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

How unregulated herbal market risks millions of lives

herbal market [BBC]

In August 2023, Emmanuel Obinna, an Abuja-based entrepreneur, said he purchased and consumed a local liquid concoction from the street market in Wuse Abuja and it almost resulted in serious health complications for him.

He said he suffered stomach pain and persistent diarrhoea, which landed him in the hospital.

He was later told by a doctor that the concoction contained some properties that did not go well with his system.

The absence of robust regulations in the country’s herbal medicine sector is leaving consumers vulnerable to substandard and potentially harmful products.

It has become a common sight to see herbal drugs indiscriminately hawked and illegally sold at strategic locations across Nigeria.

Herbal remedies often lack rigorous quality control, leading to variations in potency and composition, which pose a significant risk to consumers who may inadvertently ingest incorrect dosages or even harmful substances, according to public health experts.

Reports also show the presence of hazardous substances such as heavy metals and pesticides in some herbal preparations.

Despite efforts by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), illegal sales of herbal medicine persist, even as the agency has threatened severe sanctions, including jail terms. Herbal medicine producers ought to register their products, undergo toxicological studies, and ensure efficacy through collaboration with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development. However, several herbal drugs are sold without NAFDAC’s approval. Recently, the ‘Baban Aisha’ herbal medicine vendor was nabbed for operating with a fake licence.

Public health experts have highlighted the urgency of comprehensive regulations to safeguard the safety and efficacy of herbal drugs, as their absence has led to unethical practices and the exploitation of unsuspecting Nigerians.

Zainab Shariff, a former director of Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the Federal Ministry of Health, expressed dismay over the delay in passing the Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medical Council Bill into law. The bill was passed by the 9th National Assembly but the then president, Muhammadu Buhari, refused to sign it into law. If enacted, it is expected to regulate and protect traditional medicine practices in Nigeria.

Shariff said NAFDAC alone cannot effectively regulate the herbal drug market and called for the establishment of a council to provide training for practitioners. Stressing the prevalence of fake traditional medicines due to the lack of regulation, she urged the current government to pass the bill into law, proposing the formation of a council with representatives from all 36 states.

She decried what she described as lack of synergy among government agencies and emphasised the need for clearly defined roles to promote effective collaboration, particularly between the ministries of science and technology and health.

Onyechi Adaobi, a public health expert, stressed the need for increased awareness and education. She urged the Federal Government to regulate and promote the proper practice of traditional medicine through the passage of the traditional medicine bll.