While African countries like South Africa, Ghana, Egypt and Morocco have developed and maintained institutional mandates to fast-track the co-ordination of research and development, promotion and documentation of traditional medicine, Nigeria is still in the woods on the promotion of traditional medicine.
Given this worrisome development, experts have tasked Nigerian scientists and researchers to develop drugs that would not only meet the nation’s healthcare needs but also see it participate in the global traditional medicine market.
Dr. Paul Orhii, director-general, National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), said that given the enormous economic potentials traditional medicine offers, a holistic step should be taken to ensure that effective regulation is in place in order to aid the incorporation of traditional medicine into the nation’s healthcare system.
With 1,372 traditional medicine products, ranging from processed and packaged powders to syrups/suspensions and ointment/creams, listed by NAFDAC in the last 15-18 years in Nigeria, only a few have been formulated into pharmaceutical dosage forms, according to Dr. Orhii.
“Two manufacturers have followed the path of science and did the needful, from proof of concept up to Phase 2, based on which they were allowed to state indications on the labels,” he stated, adding that work is in progress on those herbal products.
SundiataPost learnt that while evidence of efficacy is not a prerequisite for herbal listing by NAFDAC but essentially there must be claims of indications as well as a proof of scientific research to ensure that due process was followed to limit harmful effects when they are allowed into the market.
“I have been very concerned about the proliferation of some traditional medicines, particularly the herbs, roots or other allied products that are put out to the public via the media, with ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims of cure for ailments, including serious diseases like HIV/AIDS,” Dr. Orhii reiterated.
Under the current regulatory regime, NAFDAC enlists products based on safety studies. By taking this new initiative, the agency hopes to raise the status of listed products thereby providing more reliable, safer and good quality herbal supplements generally accepted across the globe.
Mrs. Shariff Zainab, managing director, Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company (NMPDC) explained that the discovery and isolation of artemisinin from Artemisia, a plant used in the formulation of antimalarials has been in use in China for almost 2000 years.
As more than 100 countries have regulations for herbal medicines, Zainab stated that in some Asian and African countries, 80 percent of the population depend on traditional medicine for primary healthcare even as herbal medicines generate billions of dollars in revenue.
“It takes years for a new drug to get through the research and development pipeline to manufacture and the cost is enormous. Growing drug resistance, in part caused by the misuse of medications, has rendered several antibiotics and other life-saving drugs useless. A few major triumphs have stoked interest in traditional medicine as a source for highly successful and lucrative drugs.
“The best known of these is artemisinin used to treat malaria. The safety, effectiveness and quality of finished herbal medicine products depend on the quality of their source materials (which can include hundreds of natural constituents), and how elements are handled through production processes,” Mrs. explained.
With collaboration with Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), the National Association of Nigeria Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP), experts from the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company (NMPDC), professors of pharmacy and medicine from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, and most universities in the country, are in the committee constituted by NAFDAC to make safe and efficacious herbal medicines available to Nigerians at cheap prices.