Covid-19 And The Prospect Of Traditional Medicine

By Shola Agbeyangi

In the beginning, many did not really care about it. They waved it away as a Chinese problem. But somehow, it has become a global concern and everyone is now in its awe. That, indeed, is the story of Coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19

Take it or leave it, the deadly virus, is the latest threat to human survival. Both the rich and the poor are vulnerable to the pandemic. It knows no barrier.

Globally, as at Monday, April 27th, the lethal plague has led to the death of 207,971, with more than 3,016, 633 infected persons in over 158 countries.

This shows the massive impact the virus is having on the world. It has found a base on every continent except for Antarctica. Thousands of flight has been cancelled, music and sporting activities postponed and in some cases entirely cancelled. Some nations have been on lock down for weeks, yet, respite seems out of sight.

Since February 24th when Nigeria recorded her index case, the figure of infected persons has risen to 1, 273 with 40 fatalities.

Lagos, being a cosmopolitan city, is the epicenter of the coronavirus in Nigeria with 731 infected persons. Cheeringly, the State also has the highest number of recovery rate of 128. The State government has been working tirelessly to curtail the virus from spreading, as it has intensified tracing of people that were exposed to infected persons in addition to other measures.

Now that orthodox medicine practitioners across the world are working overtime to discover the potent vaccine for the evil virus, is, perhaps, the most auspicious time for traditional medicine experts to stand up and be counted.

Over the years, the practice of traditional medicine has experienced slow progress in Nigeria for diverse reasons. However, things are gradually changing as the practice is now receiving an appreciable level of attention from both the Federal and the State Governments, as well as other stakeholders.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, a considerable number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa rely on traditional or alternative medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs. This is equally true in other places where alternative medicine usage is prevalent. The high number of people that opt for traditional medicine underscores the need to accord more prominence to it as it is being done with orthodox medicine.

The fact that about 70 per cent of the people globally use alternate medicine, at one time or the other, makes the field very crucial in the drive to ensure delivery of qualitative healthcare.

According to Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria spends over $1bn annually on medical treatment. Of course, this figure is mind-blowing. Sadly, the cure being sought overseas could be received locally if due diligence is done.

Nigerians, no doubt, are confronted with myriad of health challenges and it is in recognition of this and the need to take pragmatic steps towards addressing the situation that President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Second National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP) and the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF) last year.

Similarly, the Lagos State government had been promoting the attainment of universal healthcare delivery system in the country as evident in the State government’s massive investments in human and infrastructural facilities in the health sector.

One of the steps taken by the State government was the launch of Lagos State Health Scheme (LSHS), a State- wide mandatory health insurance initiative aimed at ensuring that residents have access to quality, affordable health services. This covers treatment of common adult and childhood ailments, maternal and child services, preventive healthcare services, selected non – communicable diseases and surgeries.

Also, the Lagos State government has inaugurated the Traditional Medicine Board Research Group for the State Traditional Medicine Board to help address the issue of efficacy of herbal products, coupled with standardization arising from dosage administration as well as multi-various claims associated with the effects of herbal products in the management of health challenges.

Currently, there are over six thousand (6,000) registered Alternative Medicine Practitioners in Lagos State. This comprises Traditional Birth Attendants, Bone Setters, Ifa Diviners, Faith Based Birth Attendants and Healers and General Practitioners, popularly known as Eleweomo. These alternative medicine practitioners offer a wide range of services in the healthcare delivery system in the State such as child and maternal care, treatment of diseases and other form of health challenges, orthopedic treatments, amongst a host of others.

Consequently, in Lagos, traditional medicine practitioners represent a largely untapped resource base and unharnessed sector in the healthcare delivery system. This is the same sector from which countries like China, India and Turkey make billions of dollars, which is far above the budget size of many countries in West Africa. Now, the question is: Why do we continue deluding ourselves that traditional medicine is inferior and unconventional?

Without a doubt, if their activities are properly monitored and well-streamlined, traditional medicine practitioners could assist in no small measure in helping to provide the needed healthcare services to the teeming population of the State.

Currently, a good number of people patronize alternative medicine practitioners for reasons ranging from belief system, affordability and potency.

There is no denying the fact that a certain level of conflict of interest exist between both the orthodox and traditional medicine practitioners. It is, however, important that they both know their limitations and be modest enough to seek each other’s help where necessary. The former should not deride the professional competence of the latter and vice versa.

Significantly, traditional medicine practitioners must not delve into areas that solely require the professional-know-how of medical doctors. Also, members of the public should desist from taking or mixing herbs arbitrarily. Regardless of the efficacy of any medicine, abuse portends a greater risk.

The acceptance of the above reality will help the healthcare system harness the immense benefits of alternative medicine in the delivery of universal healthcare.

One way the State government can help provide the needed impetus to traditional medicine is to offer financial and technical supports for its practitioners. That is the trend in India, China and other nations where the sector thrives. This is principally why the practice of traditional medicine has become a huge money spinner and a potential source of employment in those countries.

On a final note, in order to fully optimize the potentials of traditional medicine in our clime, especially in primary health care delivery, all stakeholders must genuinely work together to develop inventory and documentation of various medicinal plants and herbs used in treating common diseases. This is the way it is being done in other climes. Ours must not be an exception.

Agbeyangi is Public Affairs Officer, Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board.