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‘FG to strengthen traditional medicine for health coverage’

by Haruna Gimba
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By Asmau Ahmad

The Federal Government of Nigeria has promised to strengthen traditional medicine through favourable policies and scientific research and innovation for sustainable results.

The Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Adetunji Alausa, made this known on Thursday in Abuja at the commemoration of the 2023 African Traditional Medicine (ATM) day.

The theme is: “The Contribution of Traditional Medicine to Holistic Health and Well-being for All.”

Alausa, who was represented by the ministry’s Director of Human Resources Management, Malam Hassan Salau, said that integration and collaboration between modern medical practices and traditional medicine are essential.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared August 31 every year as the ATM Day in the 2001 and urges all Member States to on this day review the progress of implementation of the objectives of institutionalising traditional medicine into national health systems.

“We must ensure that our traditional healers have access to proper training, research and resources, allowing them to standardise their expertise while also aligning with international best practices.

“This collaboration can lead to a healthcare system that is truly comprehensive and inclusive, benefiting all members of our society.”

He, however, assured that Nigeria would mobilise evidence-based actions in support of traditional medicine which serves as initial recourse for millions worldwide seeking to address their health and well-being needs.

Alausa added that the nation would continue to work with support from WHO, West African Health Organisation (WAHO) and other partners like the Embassies of China and India to develop traditional medicine for local use and commercialisation.

He said that studies have shown that traditional medicine use in Nigeria was as high as 81.6 per cent, a figure that is not expected to be on the decline in the near future, especially in the face of the predicted increase in the global burden of diseases.

“The Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Tinubu, seeks to bolster the economy by prioritising Universal Health Coverage which is expected to frontally address the nation’ s healthcare challenges.

“The healthcare plan will also focus on encouraging and improving funding for local research of new drugs and vaccines.

“It is a well-established fact that many medicines have their origin from herbal medicine which is a form of traditional medicine.”

He added that the nation’s approach to optimising the strengths of its traditional medicine would also focus on favourable policies, institutional and political support, Nigeria’s rich biodiversity, qualitative data, scientific research, and the use of innovation to optimise the contribution of traditional medicine to UHC and sustainable development.

Also, that it will be guided by respect for the nation’s indigenous resources and intellectual property rights.

He acknowledged that the ministry has made major strides in acknowledging the role of traditional medicine in our healthcare delivery system.

They include the establishment of Department of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (TCAM), the review of Traditional Medicine Policy for Nigeria and the Nigeria Herbal Pharmacopoeia, the development of the Nigeria Essential Medicinal Plants List (NEMPL) and the Nigerian Indigenous Knowledge documents.

Others are the establishment of a database that will capture traditional medicine practitioners in the country according to their areas of expertise.

“The TCAM department has captured over 350 practitioners in the database so far although only a bit over 230 forms have been returned.

“Training of over 800 traditional medicine practitioners on various topics ranging from good manufacturing practices, intellectual property rights, good agricultural practices, processing and packaging of traditional medicine products.

“The development of 12 Standards for Traditional Medicine in collaboration with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other stakeholders.”

Also speaking, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said that the shared theme of “Holistic Health and Well-being for All” amplifies the organisation’s commitment to the interconnectedness of health and well-being that transcends geographical boundaries.

His message was read by the Country Director, Dr Walter Mulombo.

Moeti said that ATM, deeply intertwined with indigenous herbalism and rooted in the tapestry of African spirituality and culture, stands as a beacon of accessibility, affordability, and trust for millions across the continent.

“With approximately 80 per cent of our population seeking solace in traditional medicine for fundamental health needs, it remains an embodiment of our identity, resilience, and heritage.

“We laud the strides taken by member states in nurturing the integration of traditional medicine within national health systems.

“From the development of evidence-based policies to regulatory frameworks that ensure quality and safety, from the cultivation of medicinal plants to collaborative training initiatives, our progress is tangible and commendable.”

According to him, 25 countries in the WHO Africa Region have now integrated traditional medicine into their health sciences curricula, while 20 have established training programs for traditional health practitioners and health sciences students.

This, he said, was to strengthen human resources in both traditional medicine and primary health care.

He added that 39 countries in the region have developed legal frameworks for traditional health practitioners.

“While we celebrate these achievements, we remain mindful of the path ahead.

The potential of traditional medicine, in terms of research, local manufacturing, and commercialisation, remains untapped.

“On this occasion, I call upon Member States to scale up their efforts and further implement evidence-based Traditional Medicine (TM) approaches to achieve the health-related SDGs and promote health and well-being for all at all ages.

“I urge member states to apply local knowledge, science, technology, and innovation to unlock the contribution of TM to advancing planetary health and people’s well-being across the life course, through regional and culturally appropriate nutrition and lifestyles within sustainable environments.

“Facilitate effective integration of traditional medicine into national health systems contributing to achieving UHC and all health-related SDGs.”

He also advocated for the acceleration of research, production, regulation, and formal utilisation of evidence based traditional and indigenous products in national health systems.

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