23 December 2012

Tanzania: Herbalists Cry Foul Over Lack of Drug Verification

HERBALISTS and dispensers of alternative medicines are up in arms against the government for its failure to put in place a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machine for product verification.

The NMR machine is a powerful tool used to study, identify and characterize molecules. It has proven especially valuable in many professional fields including medicine and pharmaceutical industries.

In an exclusive interview, Arusha-based herbalist-cum researcher, Mr Japhet Laizer alias Prof Laizer said herbalists and alternative medicine dealers were unable to widen their market base because even the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA) does not have equipment to verify their products.

Verification involves determining whether the herbal products contain any ingredients that are harmful to human beings. "Recently, I wanted to take part in an exhibition in Kenya and Sudan where I could have marketed my products, but that wasn't possible because I had no certification from TFDA," he said.

Laizer said it was saddening that a country of more than 75,000 herbalists, on whom 60 per cent of the population relies for treatment, cannot purchase a machine that costs 400m/- only.

Another traditional medicine practitioner, Mr Hassan Rajab, alias Dr Manyuki blamed red-tape among various regulatory authorities, that made it impossible for them to operate profitably The Business Registrations and Licensing Agency (BRELA) Assistant Registrar - Intellectual Property Division, Mr Hakiel Mgonja, concurred that there were many challenges that traditional medicine entrepreneurs and scientists encountered.

"The authorities have been established by different Acts and have their own guidelines and therefore Brela cannot dictate terms but through good collaborations, we can ease your difficulties," he promised. The Acting Assistant Director, Traditional Medicine Section in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Paulo Mhame reassured traditional medicine sellers that the ministry was in dialogue with TFDA on certification particularly on the type of forms to be filled in.

A lecturer of the University of Dar es Salaam in the Department of Chemistry, Dr Quintino Mgani said, while addressing the herbalists' workshop that there was need to bridge the gap between herbalists and scientists. Meanwhile, stakeholders in the traditional medicine sector want the government to give priority in ensuring that there is sustainability of medicinal trees and plants.

The National Institute of Medical Research Traditional Medicine Pharmaceutical Technician, Mr Caroline Kihupi said that she didn't see any government institution that was conserving these valuable assets of the nation and that there was cause for concern.

"I have worked in Tanga area and have seen a particular medicinal species only found in this part of the region of the continent that if not checked will be extinct if an intervention isn't taken up soon," she said.

Dr Mhame said that the Ministry had already thought of that even before their advocacy campaigns and that when they were sensitising regions and councils, they stressed on educating the masses on planting medicinal trees and availing farmers with land. "We are aware of the dangers.

Take the African Potato for example, after we learnt that there were people coming from Southern Africa for it, we instructed district authorities in Njombe and Iringa to restrict the practice," he said. He said also that the government was thinking of setting up national botanical gardens in each council in the country, whereby each coordinator will have the duty of sitting with the herbalists in that area to pick the most used plants that will be in the garden.

NIMR Head of Department of Traditional Medicine, Dr Hamis Malebo, said that the idea of having botanical gardens was very good but it needed to include nurseries for seedlings. Dr Malebo cited that this was what Kenya did and the move had proven very successful and it was something that could be emulated where the seedlings are divided among farmers for multiplication purposes.

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