12 February 2013

Nigeria: 'Political Will Needed to Integrate Traditional and Orthodox Medicine'


Kano — Dr Salisu A Ibrahim is the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State on private health institutions.

In this interview, he comments on the recent declaration by the Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu on plans to integrate traditional medicine into medical school curriculum, what his office is doing to sanitize the practitioners of traditional healers operating in the state and other issues. Excerpts:

Recently the Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu announced that his ministry is in the process of integrating traditional medicine into orthodox medical school curriculum, what is your take as a medical practitioner on this pronouncement?

From what I heard in the media, the minister said there is an effort to integrate traditional and orthodox practices in Nigeria. This is a positive development; we really appreciate the courage of the minister to actually see how we can integrate these institutions. Actually many countries in the world are looking at both sides, that's the orthodox and traditional aspect to see how far the teeming populace can benefit from their services.

Over times there have been many policies internationally to reduce discrepancies when it relates to access to good quality care, if these two institutions are integrated it will help. Example of such policies is the Alma- Ata declaration which requires the primary health care to give qualitative care to people all over the world by the year 2000.

However along the line the policy faced some problems because most countries around the world did not give maximum cooperation, there was no strong political will, there was no research on the concept of the idea and there was no manpower all over the world to give that qualitative care to the people. The last thing was the failure of governments at different nations to integrate the traditional medical practice.

So because of our failure to recognize and acknowledge the traditional medical healers, we are now being faced with this problem. Whether we like it or not, these traditional healers are the first contact with most of the patients especially in Africa, 80 percent of our populace depend on the traditional healers one way or the other to get access to their health at the primary care level.

Because most of their services are cheap, poor people rely on them most of the time to get treatment. So if government can do this it will help in integrating the traditional practice into the orthodox practice but strong political will is required.

Considering the inconsistency of government policies, would you say this will see the light of day?

There are a lot of problems and challenges, part of the challenges are the political will. We have had about nine administrations in Nigeria, right from the time of Obasanjo when he was in the military when this thing was signed into law allowing the traditional healers to practice in Nigeria, up to this time that Goodluck Jonathan is president there is no commitment to give them an enabling law that will allow them to practice, that is one aspect.

Two, the disunity among the traditional healers prevented them from forming a common front to make the legislatures have a policy for them to be included into the national health policy.

Three, low literacy among the traditional healers has actually drawn them back and lack of adequate funding to give all the enabling environment that will help them to come on board. These problems actually negate traditional boards and councils in the country and therefore without these, it is difficult for government to reckon with them and give them an enabling environment to survive.

While this is done at this time we should also take note that the statement made by the minister cannot come over night, it is just a mere statement. There should be other policy frame works that will give this proposal a chance and there should be a law that is enacted by the legislatures to make it a law so that they will be able to come on board.

Funding is needed to create schools for them and the need for the curriculum designers and psychologist to sit down to fashion out the curriculum content of the course and to give it a specified duration of time based on individual capability. If this is done, that will be a good sign of progress.

Is your office sanitizing traditional medicine practitioners in Kano state?

Since we came on board, we have tried to sit with different faction of all the traditional healers in the state. From these meeting we were able to find out what is on the ground. We found out that there are so many people on ground practicing this act and most of them we don't have enough information about them or what they claim are cure and the various ailments they treat.

There are also a lot of immoral advertisements, using loudspeakers to advertise in the market and in the mosque. So we have tried to see how we can streamline their activities to make sure that they do things according to the law.

So the first thing we did was to engage them and make them see the direction of the government, assuring them of government readiness to assist them. So having achieved that, we are now in the process of sending out forms to them. It is a bio data form for them to fill individually. When we get this data, the next thing is the code of conduct.

We have already developed a code of conduct for the traditional healers in the state. We hope by this, it will limit their excesses, to bring them within the confines of the law. We have also developed an operational guideline for every traditional healer in the state. Based on one's profession, we have outlined all the items that one need to posses before government will allow him to practice. Another thing is that we have set up a seminar sessions for them, already the governor has approved funds for the training.

In the training they will learn basic human anatomy and physiology, how drugs work in the human body and to also teach them how to process, package and store their drugs.

Will that help address the problem of safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicine?

All over the world where traditional medicine is being practiced, the drugs are not scientifically proven except in few countries like China and India. What we are after is the safety; in terms of how they package to reduce contamination and other unhygienic things.

The other aspect we are going to take is that we have already made contact with the department of Pharmacology, Bayero University, Kano on how we can start sampling some of these drugs, taking them there for further analysis. But as it is now, no one can guarantee the safety of the traditional medicines.

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