( Temitope Obayendo)
Pharm (Hajiya) Zainab Shariff, CEO, Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company (NMPDC) is a well-known authority on “Green Pharmacy” in Nigeria, having done extensive work on several medicinal plants. In this exclusive chat with Temitope Obayendo, Shariff, who is also the national chairperson of the Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPs) explains why the federal government must integrate herbal medicine into the Nigerian health care delivery system. She also emphasises the role of adequate funding in productive research. Excerpts:
It was recently reported that only 25 per cent of medicinal plants are utilised in Nigeria. As an advocate of herbal medicine, what factors do you think will enhance the harnessing of Nigerian medicinal plants for health and nutritional benefits?
To fully harness the usefulness and efficacy of these plants, there must be increased sensitisation of Nigerians to appreciate the values and enormous potentials that abound with their use. The federal government, on its part, must initiate and facilitate policies through the Federal Ministry of Health by passing the Traditional Medicine Policy, to regulate the practice.
There is also the need to facilitate the integration of herbal medicine into the healthcare delivery system. This will stimulate research and development, as well as processing and packaging of herbal products.
Added to this is the need to discourage importation of such products mostly from China and India currently flooding our markets. Reduced interest in the quest for chemically synthesised drugs and a desire by the global pharmaceutical sector to promote “Green Pharmacy” will also promote utilisation.
Since the creation of NMPDC, how far has it gone in harnessing the potentials of herbals for the improvement of health care in the country?
NMPDC has, so far, successfully cultivated and commercialised Artemisia annua (a Chinese antimalarial plant used in producing ACTs). We currently have four products in the market: Artemisia tea, Artemisia tea plus, Morigvite tea and Morigvite powder. Also, there are nine new products that we plan to introduce to the market, which are currently awaiting approval by NAFDAC.
Many research findings have identified several nutritional phytochemicals in plants. Most of these findings have however died a natural death, due to lack of sponsors. How can this issue be addressed?
Researchers are urged to carry out their findings from A-Z. Research findings on medicinal plants at every stage have the potential to generate revenue, while the revenue generated is used for further research. This is done to prevent research works ending up under lock and key, and even forgotten. Most importantly, there must be a strong political will by the government to support research institutes through adequate funding and encouragement of private participation to commercialise research findings.
It has been observed that fertilisers used in cultivating some plants make them unhealthy for consumption. Do you agree with this observation?
As much as possible, it is better and safer to go more organic, and less inorganic in the choice of fertiliser used.
How cordial is the relation between NMPDC, faculties of pharmacy and other research institutions?
There has been a very cordial relationship,by way of collaborative efforts,with universities such as University of Jos, Zaria,and University of Benin. Research institutes, such as NIPRD, Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, Raw Materials Research and Development Institute, Agricultural Research Council, National Stored Products Research Institute, Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria, etc.
What are the challenges facing your company?
The major challenge, at the moment, is funding.
What counsel do you have for other researchers in Nigeria?
Researchers in Nigeria need to identify themselves with research institutes around, locally or internationally. Researchers have to strive to source for government intervention to support research and commercialise research findings. They should not easily give up. Efforts could also be made to source for intervention from private partners, investors, institutions and international organisations, particularly in researches that have high potentials to be commercialised and can impact positively on the society.