By Ekpoh Mfonobong
Africa has about 54 countries divided into regions: North Africa, Sahel, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. The continent’s continuing struggle with communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), parasitic diseases and poor primary and obstetric care has been a major factor in stalling the development and extension of healthcare services in African countries at even the most basic level (Janssen 2011). The healthcare delivery system has a role to play in Africa’s experience of disproportionate burden of poverty, disease, and death with appalling disparities within and between countries (Kaseje 2006).
Health is an integral part of life and its expedient that Africa’s healthcare system is re-assessed for viability. Orthodox medicine in its own sense, trains general medical practitioners to comprehensively treat the whole patient and to refer to specialists only when patients present ailments exceeding the knowledge and skills of the practitioner. Moreover, consumer-led demands for alternative therapies allow many people to seek care from a wide variety of traditions, each of which has its own anecdotal claims of success (Touyz 2012). Hence, integration of orthodox medicine with complementary medicine would be valuable.
Africa is a continent blessed with vast herbs whose medicinal value knowledge is handed down through generations, alongside the benefits of alternative medicine practices such as acupuncture, biofeedback etc. Previously, traditional medicine was presumed to be dangerous and produce side effects, which would be treated by orthodox medicine or lead to deterioration of the patient’s health. However, only decoctions, herbal products sourced from inappropriate centers, or products used in unidentified disease conditions and with insufficient advice on therapy regimen result in such scenarios (Asare 2016). Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and different excipients are obtained from nature. Correcting the wrong notions of complementary medicine, and accepting it the way orthodox medicine has ‘won the heart’ of most practitioners, would make appropriate integration less challenging.
More products from nature are being produced and marketed, with claims to be effective in treatment of various diseases, eg Gingko biloba proven to benefit brain function; moringa seeds, leaves and extracts proven to contain phytochemicals beneficial to health. Also, acupuncture has been effective in stress management. For better healthcare systems, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of orthodox medicine by various pharmaceutical companies are monitored timely. Similarly, for improved desired outcomes on patients’ quality of life, SOPs of herbal medicines should be regulated too, to prevent interference with the pharmacology of orthodox medicine. To spike interest in future healthcare professionals, alternative medicine should be taken more seriously in our institutions, with well-balanced tutoring on its basics and the benefits of its integration. Also, herbalists and other professionals of complementary medicine should become members of the healthcare team. Moreover, a balance in the basic knowledge of both medicines is necessary for these professionals.
These natural products and techniques in combination with orthodox medicine would speed up recovery, boost health and general immunity, increase appreciation of the blessings of nature and help reassess the cost of wellbeing in order to accommodate all strata of the economy. Also, standardized complementary healthcare would provide affordable healthcare for vulnerable groups as most times patients purchase medicines at high cost compared to their standard of living.
Health must be viewed as a central element of productivity rather than as an unproductive consumer of public budgets (Kaseje 2006). The ‘tides’ in healthcare demands of Africans are changing, our system is at a turning point, thus, all hands must be on deck as this course is an all-encompassing one.
- A Presentation on ‘Healthcare in Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and an Emerging Model for Improvement’ by Dan Kaseje, Great Lakes University of Kisumu, November 2006.
- An Article on ‘Herbal Medicine vs Orthodox Medicine, The Wrong Attitude’ by Bentil Asare, 2016.
- Louis ZG Touyz (2012). Alternative and Orthodox Medicine and the “ODD” Principle. Curr Oncol.; 19(02); 64-65
- The Future of Healthcare in Africa. A Report from the Economic Intelligence Unit sponsored by Janssen, 2011.