interviewBy Ruby Leo
The lines between orthodox medicine and its traditional/herbal counterpart have never been more sharply outlined. But recent moves in the health sector have been to bring both sides closer to provide better care for millions of Nigerians who need them. A prominent member of the National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners, Timothy Omo-Oliabhele, based in Benin City, tells Daily Trust the gulf between his practice and orthodox care is fast closing.
These medicines for diabetes, at what stage are they?
Medicine for diabetes is available, and if we want to be very frank, diabetes is curable. And when it is curable, people can eat whatever they like, even though it is on record that when a person is growing old, from age fifty and above, he is supposed to regulate his diet and food. I have medicine for diabetes from medicinal plants and we are ready to give it to NIPRD. The one with NIPRD can control diabetes to a very good level, but we have medicine that cures it.
Orthodox doctors and traditional medicine practitioners are told this is the time to work together. What is the essence of that working together? Are you saying if you don't work together, we cannot get these medicines on board?
Working together is good. It is only when we work together that the efficacy [of the medicines] can be guaranteed by NAFDAC and by the clinical trials. Nigerians today want clinic trial guarantee on products.
But the problem with traditional medicines is that most people who know about these herbs are not willing to give out the information. They'd rather keep it to themselves and pass it down their family line. Do we have traditional medicine practitioners willing to divulge the details of their content?
When I was bringing some medicines to NIPRD, I did not bring prepared products only. It was registered by NAFDAC. I brought the raw materials from the bush and showed NIPRD, 'this is what this medicine does, here is the NAFDAC, and I want you to go into it.' We are no longer ready to keep it secret in our stomachs alone.
Why haven't we got to the stage where traditional medicine products from Nigeria are on the international market?
Money. That is why the World Bank is needed. To produce drugs is money.
What's your relationship with NIPRD?
Very cordial. I know the DG of NIPRD, Professor Gamaniel, for up to 15 years. We have been working in things related with traditional medicine before he was made DG.
Have you been able to develop any of your medicine?
Up to 23. I have the highest number of NAFDAC registered herbal products.
Some are calling for a ban on advertisement of herbal products. What do you make of it?
It is a wrong thing. If there is advertisement, it will enable people know and bear testimony. I am surprised people are talking about banning advertisement when the NBC does not accuse stations of showing horrifying films like war, which is leading to these incessant bombings. When you are showing programmes on how people start and fight wars, destroy so many lives and you tell people not to advertise medicines that can heal people, it is a wrong thing. The government should set up agency to verify the claim, and the claim subjected to clinical trial. If it passes, that is a plus to Nigeria.
Among your 23 registered drugs, which has been commercialised? Has anyone gotten to WHO standards for exportation?
All are highly sought for by my patients. I need funds to commercialise them in a big way.
What kind of drugs?
Medicine for diabetes, hypertension, TB cough, sickle cell, medicine to make a woman fertile and become pregnant, manpower, medicine to cure mad people. The government employed me since 27 years ago to be treating mad people in Edo state. I don't hide formula again. I am an achiever.
What challenges have you encountered?
The greatest challenge was unification of traditional healers to fight for a common purpose that would make Nigeria a member of community that supplies medicines to global health. Now the NANTMP, National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners. That's being my challenge, because one man cannot fight a dozen. And now we are united but yet many states are yet to wake up. By wake up, I mean, when they are invited for meetings, they should be able to come. With the new wave of violence, some states in the north are not able to be very active.
The National Health Bill is yet to be passed.
We believe that our children who are the lawmakers will listen. The bill is not benefiting Omooviabhe alone. It is benefiting the whole country and even children yet unborn. It will give legal backing for the practice of traditional medicine.