By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organization (WHO) says with the implementation of its Regional Strategies on Promoting and Enhancing the Role of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems, 40 African countries have developed national traditional medicine policies.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa Region, said this in a message to the 2022 African Traditional Medicine Day.
Moeti said that the year’s theme was “Two Decades of African Traditional Medicine Day: Progress Towards Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Africa”.
She said that member-states have used the day to catalyze discussion forums around national policies on traditional medicine, cultivation of medicinal plants.
The day is also used to train traditional health practitioners and their collaboration with their conventional counterparts.
“These activities prompted more than 40 African Region countries to develop national traditional medicine policies by 2022, up from only eight in 2000.
“Thirty countries had also integrated traditional medicine into their national policies, a 100 per cent improvement on the situation in 2000.
“Additionally, 39 countries had established regulatory frameworks for traditional medicine practitioners, compared to only one in 2000, demonstrating good governance and leadership,’’ she said.
Moeti said as of today, 34 research institutes in 26 countries were dedicated to traditional medicine research and development.
According to her, it remains a promising industry, with great commercial potential, if marketed appropriately internationally.
She said that twelve of these countries reported making public fund allocations to this research and development across the past 10 years.
Moeti said, “these institutes had employed WHO guidelines and protocols to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of traditional medicine-based therapeutics for priority diseases.
“These diseases are HIV/AIDS, malaria, diabetes, hypertension, Sickle-Cell Disease and, recently, COVID-19.”
Moeti said that since the day was initiated in 2003, the continent has seen the implementation of WHO Regional Strategies on Promoting and Enhancing the Role of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems.
She said it also saw the plans of action for the First (2001-2010) and Second Decades of African Traditional Medicine (2011-2020).
She said currently, 17 countries, as opposed to zero in 2000, have frameworks for the protection of intellectual property rights and traditional medical knowledge.
According to her, the theme gives the opportunity to reflect on the progress towards African traditional medicine being afforded the prominence it deserves in national health systems.
She said that traditional medicine has been the trusted, acceptable, affordable and accessible source of health care for African populations for centuries.
“Still today, 80 per cent of the continent’s population relies on traditional medicine for their basic health needs,’’ she said.
Moeti said that to advance continental efforts towards equitable access to medical products and technologies, all, but eight African Member- States were now engaged in large-scale cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants.
She said that nineteen countries had also established facilities for the local manufacture of herbal medicines.
The director said that with the number of herbal medicines were registered by national regulatory authorities in 14 countries, increasing from just 20 in 2000, to more than 100 this year.
“More than 45 herbal medicines now feature on national essential medicines lists. In another important advance, 25 countries had now integrated traditional medicine into their health sciences curricula.
“While 20 had established training programme for traditional health practitioners and health sciences students, to strengthen human resources in both traditional medicine and primary health care.
“Thirty-nine countries had also developed legal frameworks for traditional health practitioners,” she said.
Moeti said that positive signs of traditional and conventional health systems working in parallel for the good of their patients were that referrals of patients between the two sectors were now taking place routinely in 17 countries.
She said a total of 24 countries had also developed Codes of Ethics and Practice for traditional health practitioners, to ensure safety and standards of service delivery.
“Ghana is setting the example for the continent, with the establishment of traditional medicine clinics in 55 regional hospital settings to date.
“WHO in the African Region had supported joint missions with partners to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Madagascar.
“Others are Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda, to monitor clinical trials of traditional medicine-based therapeutics proposed for COVID-19, eight of which are ongoing,’’ Moeti said.
She said that the political will displayed by countries to support these innovations has been inspiring, as has the level of available infrastructure and skills.
The director called on governments to strengthen collaboration between science, technology and innovation institutions; traditional health practitioners and the private sector, to fast-track research and development.
She said others were local manufacturing of traditional medicine-based therapeutics for the health and well-being of Africa’s people.