With about 65 to 70 per cent of Nigerians living in the rural areas, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, has stated that the country has little or no possibility of attaining Universal Health Coverage (UHC) without integration of natural medicines into its healthcare delivery system.
Mamora noted that, aside from being readily available, empirical findings and experience have shown that traditional medicines are safer, with fewer side effects, unlike other medicine types.
The former Minister of State for Health spoke with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview, shortly after commissioning the Research Laboratory Complex of the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) and lauding its ISO Certification status.
Mamora expressed satisfaction with the efforts of the agency in establishing a robust partnership with traditional medicine practitioners, especially in relation to the protection of their intellectual property rights. He said this is especially important, as practitioners need to be confident in the agency and collaborate with it in developing and making their products to be globally competitive.
According to him, “Natural medicine is our heritage, we must protect it; we must develop it to get to where we want it to be. And probably most importantly in that regard, is that we cannot achieve Universal Health Coverage without integration and incorporation of our indigenous medicines. We cannot because it’s the first port of call for the majority of our people who live in the rural areas, which account for about 65 to 70 per cent of the population and that is what is available to them. And because indigenous medicine has been with us for ages and centuries, they believe in it.
“Of course, empirical data and experience have shown that, aside from being readily available, it’s safer, with fewer side effects, as opposed to other forms of medicines.
“We must bring the natural medicines or indigenous medicines on board to achieve this purpose. If we don’t do that, we will be deceiving ourselves, and wasting our time. It has to be deliberate; we have to be conscious about bringing it on board so that we can get to where we are supposed to be.”
The concept of the UHC, as upheld by the World Health Organisation (WHO) means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It covers the full continuum of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
The apex health institution states that every country has a unique path to achieving UHC and deciding what to cover, based on the needs of its populace and the resources at hand. However the importance of access to health services and information as a basic human right is universal.
Speaking on the newly commissioned NNMDA Laboratory Complex, Mamora said the project commenced in 2017 with the aim of resolving the barrage of health challenges bedeviling most nations of the world, including Nigeria. He expressed satisfaction with the completion of the laboratory, which has ISO17025-2017 certification on critical foods and drugs’ product line qualification.
The minister listed other critical purposes the research laboratory is expected to serve to include: “Development of ethno medicines/herbal medicines and products; assurance of the quality and standardisation of developed herbal medicines and products; generation of the needed scientific data to show the potentials of every developed herbal medicines/products brought to the laboratory for evaluation; a platform for collaborative research from different institutions interested in ethno-medicine; and a place for the evaluation of herbal medicines/products imported into the country.”
He further observed that the construction of the lab is one of the blessings bestowed on the nation by COVID-19, as challenges encountered during the pandemic spurred the development of research laboratories in the country. He added that the issue of diagnosis, which was a major problem during the pandemic, has been surmounted with several molecular laboratories presently established in the country.
Also speaking with Pharmanews, NNMDA Director General, Pharm. Sam Etatuvie, said he was delighted to see his dream for the agency come true with the commissioning of the research laboratory. He added that, with the ISO 17025-2017 certification, natural medicine practice in the country can now reflect global best practice.
Etatuvie also used the opportunity to invite herbal medicine practitioners in Nigeria to take advantage of the standardised research laboratory in refining their local products to be viable in both local and international markets.
In his words, “The vision of this laboratory has been on my mind since 2017, so I thank God for bringing it to fruition today. The attainment of ISO certification is a big leap for natural medicine development in the country. I know many labs in our country, but to successfully complete and commission such a standardised laboratory is not a common feat. I think it is a very big achievement for the agency.
“We want to encourage all natural medicine producers, all pharma manufacturers, to start to patronise the lab. We have well-trained consultants working in the lab. So you can conduct any type of laboratory test to provide data for the safety or efficacy of whatever medical or traditional therapy, useful for our people.
“Like the minister said, this is a very virgin land that this country must pay attention to. A lot of research has been done from the universities to other research institutes, but we need verification. If you claim that this is possible, we need a laboratory to gather the data that will convince the clinicians to be able to say yes, I’m confident that this product found the results the manufacturer claims it has got.”.
Affirming the potency of herbal medicines in treating chronic conditions, the Managing Director, Alpha Pharmacy and Stores, Pharm. (Sir) Ike Onyechi, narrated how he was able to use personally formulated herbal preparation to successfully treat his enlarged prostate, to the amazement of his medical doctor, who had earlier diagnosed him of Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH).