Stakeholders from the health care sector of the country at a recent round table admitted the need for President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to make its current efforts at diversifying the Nigerian economy holistic. Beside looking beyond oil and diversifying into agriculture, solid minerals and other critical untapped God-given resources, the speakers who dwelt on alternative medicine practice in Nigeria, called on government to promote local herbal products as a way of diversifying and earning revenue, especially in foreign exchange while also delivering on the nation’s health care delivery system.
According to the experts, 75 percent of Nigerians prefer traditional medicines to orthodox because of its efficacy. They are of the view that most developed parts of the world, including Asia and China, have developed their local herbs to global acceptability and standards, to the extent that the countries treat their sick patients at no cost from such natural endowments and also earn so much in foreign exchange which Nigeria does not.
They therefore urged government to partner with local herbal practitioners through grants, partnership, and collaboration for the sustainability of the nation’s health care sector, revenue generation and in the spirit of expanding the frontiers of the economy from the present monolithic oil reliance. Science and Technology Minister, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu seems to agree with the experts on this. He frowns at the unrelenting importation of herbal products into the country and argued that it made no sense any longer for Nigeria to be importing herbal products.
He spoke at the 4th International Clinic Trial Summit and Launch of the Clinical Trial African Vision 2020 held lately in Abuja, that it was disturbing that Nigeria imports all forms of herbal products from different parts of the world when it has a rich, vast and diverse biodiversity that if properly exploited could meet local and global demands.
According to the minister, “Our fathers, grandfathers and ancestors, many of whom lived longer than we can ever dream of today, relied on these herbs.” He also revealed that herbal products were generating about $100billion across the world, which Nigeria was not making any significant contribution despite her rich biodiversity.
Interestingly, both the minister and the experts come out to be on the same page on this important matter. They sound so instructive about the benefits, no doubt. And indeed, it appears now that there are no two ways or beating about the bush regarding the need to promote herbal medicine if government is actually serious about (diversifying) earning more foreign exchange from other commodities like herbal products which the country, outside the volatile oil, is richly endowed with.
This is the real diversification we expect. After all, according to an authority, herbal medicine is one of the biggest investments on earth, a testimonial even corroborated by Dr Onu who admitted that over $100billion is generated worldwide from products of herbal medicine.
Coming from these cheering disclosures, the time to look inwards in the efforts to diversify the Nigerian economy is now. Government needs not deceive Nigerians about this policy; it must be serious and be seen to be ready to diversify, fund and promote herbal products. It is not time for double-speak or politicking, which has no good intent, goodwill and common good for the people.
Even though it is heartwarming to see experts and government thinking, for the first time, in the same direction about expanding Nigeria’s economic frontiers through promoting herbal medicine, we share in the partnership but urge that relevant government regulatory agencies to do the needful. NAFDAC, Ministry of Health and SON must ensure that all herbal products are scientifically proven and undergo GMP and global best industry and manufacture practices. Some have been verified – Halamin herbal products and those of the Nigerian medicinal plants and products company and others.
The Nigerian natural medicine development agency, one of the 17 research institutes under the Science and Technology Ministry and similar government agencies alongside private initiatives should be funded with government grants. Patronage should come from government health care providers, primary, tertiary health institutions; products promotion and good incentives that will motivate the practitioners should be uppermost in government’s consideration. This is the only way government can begin serious economic diversification if it actually means it. After all, traditional medicine is an alternative to orthodox, with both complementing each other.