Nigeria should learn natural medicine development from China, India – Onaiyekan

The Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has said Nigeria should learn from countries like China and India regarding the development of natural medicine.

According to him, natural medicine remains a viable alternative for many people who are unable to afford orthodox medicine.

Onaiyekan said Nigeria is endowed with natural medicine, urging the Federal Government to acknowledge and develop it through the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency to enable Nigerians to have access to affordable care.

PUNCH Healthwise had on Monday reported that the Federal Government unveiled four herbal products developed by the NNMDA for the management of diabetes and sickle cell disease.

Others are for the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections and reducing fast ageing.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Uche Nnaji, who unveiled the products during an official visit to NNMDA in Lagos, said the herbal products would serve as substitutes for foreign drugs amid the rising cost of drugs in the country.

The World Health Organisation says around 40 per cent of pharmaceutical products today have a natural product basis, and landmark drugs derive from traditional medicine.

The WHO affirmed that traditional medicine and traditional knowledge have contributed to breakthrough medical discoveries and there is a long history of herbal medicine being translated into effective treatments for health conditions.

Onaiyekan, in his keynote address at an event organised in Abuja by the NNMDA to commemorate the 2024 Natural Medicine Day, stated that natural medicines could be better alternatives for some medical conditions that seem to defy modern medical remedies.

The cardinal said, “It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the Agency organising this event. It is meant for the development of Nigerian natural medicine. It is based on the noble conviction that our nation is endowed with natural medicine which we need to acknowledge and develop.

“We need to remind ourselves that our people relied on our traditional natural medicine to sustain themselves in good health before our relatively recent contact with European medicine.

“However, when modern medicine came onto our scene, our people embraced much of it enthusiastically, because, compared with our traditional remedies, it had superior effectiveness and advantages.

“Thus, we accepted modern medications and other therapeutic practices. Today, we have embraced what has become “international best practices” in these matters. This is what guides the training of our various cadres of health personnel: from nurses, and lab scientists to doctors and pharmacists.”

The archbishop, however, regretted that in the process of adopting modern medicine,  some important factors about traditional natural medicine were overlooked.

“First, there was no adequate recognition of the fact that much of modern medicine was based on knowledge gleaned, without due credit, from our various natural medical products and practices.

“A case can be made about violation of Intellectual Property Rights, as our natural herbs, roots, and animal parts were taken away and repackaged in big pharmaceutical industries into bottled drinks and pills.

“Secondly, all along, natural medicine remained a viable alternative for many people, often unable to access expensive modern medicine. At times, we can even talk of a better alternative for some medical conditions that seem to defy modern medical remedies.

“It is clear therefore that the Agency is serving a good purpose of restoring our natural medicine and remedies and showcasing them on the global space for us and others. In this, we do well to learn from what the Indians and Chinese have been doing, to the admiration and amazement of the global medical community”, Onaiyekan said.

The former president of the Christian Association of Nigeria said people should do away with the notion that Nigerian traditional healers are fetish practitioners.

The religious leader noted, “Now, the situation is much clearer, as we can now appreciate better the positive dimension of the spiritual element in traditional medicine.

“It is a recognition of the fact that healing entails a collaboration between human ingenuity and divine intervention. The healing properties of herbs and roots come from the Creator of plants, God himself. It is well that this be acknowledged as we apply healing remedies.”

He urged the government to think a bit outside the box and take a second look at the values of the nation’s natural medicine and improve the health sector.

The Director-General of NNMDA, Prof. Martins Emeje, in his welcome address, said Nigerians should recognise the immense potential and power inherent in the nation’s natural medicine landscape.

The professor of Pharmacy, said, “In an era where the world is increasingly turning towards sustainable and holistic healthcare solutions, the importance of our agency cannot be overstated.

“We stand at the forefront of pioneering research, development, and promotion of natural medicine practices that not only enhance health outcomes but also contribute significantly to the socioeconomic well-being of our nation.”


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