Scientists and Politcians Should Support the Herbal Medicine Industryin Africa

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
Listen to article

Dear readers,
It's a fundamental of human nature that people feel bad about disease; common to all cultures whether they use Western medicine, medicine men, witch doctors, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine etc. The only exceptions that spring to mind are Jehovah's Witnesses whose religion forbids medicine and vaccinations.

It's also worth mentioning that not everything the herbal doctors advertise is nonsense. I've tried things on hunches and gotten good results. Evidently, in my experience, herbal medicine using concentrates and extracts can be quite efficacious.Personally, I love herbs because of the wide variety of conditions that is said to be treatable with a single plant or group of plants. The reasons why some remedies from plants are used for so many diseases could be that they affect a common (denominator) factor responsible for the diseases and disorders. One takes them for cough but one end up treating several diseases hidden in the system as well.

Herbs have been an important source of medicine for thousands of years. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 80 percent of people still rely on herbal remedies for their health care. And there are reasons for this, namely, the high cost of drugs in clinics and pharmacies, drug resistance which often lead to treatment failure, prolong and expensive treatment of some chronic diseases which the general population cannot afford. Has anyone seen those lines at Mulago hospital? Not everyone can afford to take their wife and kids for treatment at Kampala International hospital. If herbal medicine was not in Uganda, so many Ugandans will be dead by now.

Herbal medicine in other countries
In South Africa; traditional herbs have long been used to treat various pain or inflammation-related symptoms. South Africa has the richest plant biodiversity in the world, many of which are medicinally useful .They also use herbs to treat livestock diseases.Some of the plants are employed to treat: diabetes, tumours, stomach pain, rheumatism and many other indications.

In USA, the Mormons are into natural healing and natural medicine. Partially as a consequence, many vitamin and herbal medicine companies are located in Utah. All over the United States, sales of herbs is a booming business in health food stores and pharmacists.

In Germany, an expert committee, Commission E, evaluated and approved herbal medicines until it disbanded in 1991. Today, German consumers can buy standardized over-the-counter herbal preparations that are often cheaper and more effective than synthetics.

I also read an article about an HIV herbal treatment in Iran. In that article the Iranians did not say the treatment would cure AIDS, only that it would control its symptoms and could be used with the other drugs, since it was an herbal treatment.

How Herbal Medicine supplements General Medicine
I'm not an expert in herbal medicine but I agree that it needs to be run along with conventional medicine. Today, from forty to fifty percent of pharmaceutical drugs are plant-derived, and pharmaceutical houses are beating the bushes in South America and Africa in search of botanicals they can analyze chemically. Herbal Plants contain a wide variety of natural compounds mainly plant secondary compounds. Among the secondary compounds are the flavonoids. Flavonoids are among the most common constituents in plants. They are present in high concentrations in flowers, seeds, leaves, herbs, fruits, stems, bulbs, tea, wine, vegetables and other food sources. Below are some of the examples that show how herbs supplement general or contemporary medicine.

There was a German doctor by the names of Albert Schweitzer who established a medical mission in Gabon early in the century. He forged a relationship with a local doctor, whom Schweitzer addressed as "mon chère collègue." Schweitzer explained that he admired the witch doctor's ability to deal with mental illness, so he sent him patients, just as the witch doctor routinely sent Schweitzer patients who would benefit from Western medicine. In neither case did the two doctors understand the therapeutic system of the other, but both doctors respected results.

The Germans discovered that Echinacea, a valued remedy of Amerindians from the western plains, has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, unlike synthetic antibiotics, which are only antibacterial. Experiments with root extracts demonstrated that Echinacea is an immune stimulant as well. Early in the century, Echinacea was listed in the American Formulary, but was dropped later when the medical profession got caught up in the fashion for synthetic drugs.

According to International Journal of Cancer (2007), an herbal drug called black cohosh which is used to help women cope with menopausal symptoms may reduce breast cancer risk.

In addition, several European studies demonstrated that a preparation from ginko tree leaves increases blood supply to the brain. Israeli scientists developed a preparation from the elderberry bush, Sambucol, which tames influenza and its accompanying cough. Researchers proved that milk thistle extract improves liver function and actually regenerates damaged liver cells.

Finally, the Chinese practice of acupuncture is an interesting discovery that several scientists in the developed world dismissed till USA former president, Nixon, made his surprise visit to China. When a journalist in Nixon's entourage underwent an emergency appendectomy and lauded Chinese acupuncture for pain relief, the few curious American doctors who actually investigated the ancient treatment reported positive results. In the presence of Western doctors, Chinese doctors anesthetized a woman with acupuncture and then performed surgery on the patient while she was awake and at ease. A decade after Nixon visited China; veterinarians reported they had successfully treated animals with acupuncture. On November 5, 1997, a federal advisory panel of non-governmental medical experts announced its strong support for acupuncture .The twelve-member committee was enthusiastic about acupuncture's ability to relieve pain and nausea with minimal side-effects.

The Department of Botany at Makerere University has done a lot of research around this area which one may find very useful to read. They did a study between January 2000 and September 2003 to document medicinal plants used to treat fungal and bacterial infections in health care in and around Queen Elizabeth Biosphere Reserve in Bushenyi and Kasese districts in western Uganda. They also did another one in August 2007.

We therefore want the government to put herbalists into some form of training like the Chinese have done to improve in the grey areas which are worrying people. However, we should all try to fight traditional practices such as the thriving market for human body parts in many African countries, where they are used in traditional medicine. In S.Africa, it has led to a lot of Muti murders". "Muti" is the Zulu word for medicine. In Uganda, these kinds of murders have been branded 'Ekisadaka' meaning child sacrifice. In Tanzania, there are people hunting the albinos for purposes of making traditional medicine.

Abbey.Kibirige Semuwemba
Currently doing Masters in Public Health Promotion in the UK

''We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society." (Hillary Clinton, 1993)