It is incontestable, that Nigeria is sitting on a herbal medicine goldmine that is rich, if not richer than oil, and which has the potentialities of providing millions of jobs to the army of unemployed across the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Among countries globally, perhaps no country is as blessed and endowed as Nigeria in terms of its herbal medicine potentials and rich natural resources. Yet, the country is not keying into this global herbal market that can generate Trillions of dollars into the country’s economy and provide multifarious forms of jobs to millions of Nigerians as well.
However, it remains a basic truth to note that most herbal/traditional medicines are of plants origins. Surprisingly, nature has so much gifted the country with so many medicines infused in leaves, stalks and barks of plants.
Herbal medicines, also called botanical medicines or phytomedicines, refer to herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations, and finished herbal products that contain parts of plants or other plant materials as active ingredients which also include seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers.
Today, many drugs used in conventional medicine were originally derived from plants. For example, quinine and Artemesinin , on which a lot of anti-malarials are based on, is derived from Cinchona trees native to most South American countries, and found to be effective in the treatment of malaria and remained so for decades. Though Quinine can be extracted directly from the plant, it was in the long run chemically synthesized in laboratories around the world and formed a basis for quinine-related medications.
Also, Pigenil, a marketed drug in Italy used for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, increased prostate size) is composed of extracts of the bark of a plant, Prunus africana, which is native to some parts of Africa. While, turmeric a member of the ginger family and sometimes an ingredient in Nigerian or Asian fried rice, is said to be having the potential to be used as an anti-cancer agent as well as having anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties as well as using castor oil in the treatment of arthritis treatment.
Another plant whose health benefit is widely known in Nigeria is the ‘Dogon Yaro’ plant (Neem tree). The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is thought to have antifungal, antibacterial, anti-micriobial, anti-oxidant and anti-malarial properties. Others are salicylic acid which is a precursor of aspirin that was originally derived from white willow bark and the meadowsweet plant (Filipendula ulmaria),and Vincristine is an anti-cancer drug derived from periwinkle.
While, Morphine, codeine,and paregoric, is derived from the opium poppy, and are used in the treatment of diarrhea and pain relief.
In Nigeria, Rauwolfia vomitoria is used for treating hypertension, stroke, insomnia and convulsion and the seeds of Citrus parasidi Macfad. are effective in treating urinary tract infections that are resistant to the conventional antibiotics; pure honey healed infected wounds faster than eusol; as the dried seeds of Carica papaya is effective in the treatment of intestinal parasitosis; and the analgesic and inflammatory effects of Garcinia kola Heckel is acknowledged to enhance its use for osteoarthritis treatment; and while, Aloe vera Mill. gel is as effective as benzyl benzoate in the treatment of scabies.
Sadly, as a country, we still sit on a vast amount of plant-derived medications. For instance, the chemical components of the Neem tree are yet to be thoroughly explored. The practitioners can endeavor to do some research, or send these medicinal plants to laboratories around the world that specialize in natural product synthesis.
We can as well learn a lot about the key components in the plants that are responsible for the efficacy observed in sick patients; learn the doses, the mechanism of action and in the end having another Pigenil in hand. Or on the other hand, if we as a nation be more attentive to that herb/plant that alleviates every symptom of a particular disease in one dose; perhaps we’d be closer to finding a drug blockbuster of the future in the country.
Ironically, the question of standardization has being a major concern and challenge, as both practitioners and consumers agree that this must be addressed if herbal medicine is to take its rightful place as far as healthcare is concerned in this part of the world.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria has a hidden treasure of herbal medicine and the earlier it starts to standardize its products, the better it is for the economy. According to Ben Amodu, a globally recognized herbal medicine practitioner once said that ‘’though there are a lot of potentials in herbal medicine, these products cannot be exported the way they are. We must look beyond local consumption and work assiduously to making the products meet international standards, so that it can be internationally accepted because the current trade worth of traditional medicine worldwide is over 200 billion dollars and Nigeria is not benefitting from this; because most of our products are not up to global standards.”
Thus, the need for standardization therefore entails that any herbal product from the shores of Nigeria must have the right dosage, accurate measurement and calibration of herbal products as obtained in other developed economies like China, India, Germany, the US amongst many countries tapping into the potentials of the global herbal market.
But with the advancement in science and research, being carried out, the past challenges of wrong dosage, bogus and deceptive claims by practitioners, complication arising from use of herbal medicine, insufficient data and evidence for safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicines have been adequately taken care of through clinical trials (and detailed reports of findings presented and subjected to peer review) recognized in the works and researches of practitioners like Ben Amodu and Prof.Osmund Onyeka and many others. Now most of their products are not only being branded, but sold to consumers globally and if encouraged more it will help to stop the frequent trip abroad for medication which these practitioners can provide and at a reasonable cost and far better effective treatment which can’t be obtained elsewhere, which in the long run brings in needed foreign exchange in trillions of dollars yearly and millions of jobs to Nigerians..
Now that most Nigerians have come to trust traditional/herbal medicine, government and its people need to key into the herbal renaissance blooming across the world with a view to enhancing our capacity for delivering a new herbal and agricultural products to the international markets especially the EU and the US market under the Africa growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and thus diversify the export base of the local economy.It is against this backdrop of increasing widespread use of Traditional Medicine which prompted the World Health Organisation, WHO, to promote the integration of TM and ‘Complimentary’ Alternative Medicine, CAM into the national health care systems of some countries and to encourage the development of national policy and regulations as essential indicators of the level of integration of such medicine within a national health care system.
According to a WHO estimates, no fewer than 70 to 80percent of the population in many countries uses some form of alternative or complementary medicine including Ayurvedic, homeopathic, naturopathic, traditional oriental, and Native American Indian medicine . WHO also agreed to the truism that herbal medicines are the most popular form of traditional medicine, and are highly lucrative in the international medicine market, accounting for estimated annual revenues of about US$ 5 billion in 2003-2004 in Western Europe, in China, about US$ 14 billion in 2005, and in Brazil it was US$ 160 million in 2007.
Despite the widespread use of herbal medicines globally and their reported financial benefits as well as bringing into the country’s economy the much needed foreign exchange, Nigeria is yet to tap into this market.