Chairman of Bioresources Development Group (BDG), Professor Maurice Iwu, has stated that integration of scientific components to empirical information, as well as initiating motivation for herbal practitioners, is key to bridging the gap between the development of local herbs and pharmaceuticals.
Iwu, who co-hosted HerbFEST 2014, a conference on herbs, health foods and natural products in Lagos, noted that there were two different industries in the production of herbal medicines, the local herbal industry and the phytomedicine industry. He assured that the problem of authentication and standardisation was being resolved by NAFDAC, urging practitioners to submit their products for verification in due time, as some approved natural products were already in the market.
He however decried the non-availability of Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory in the country, saying this had caused a whole lot of setbacks for researchers in the country, as they had to travel abroad to access the facility for research purposes.
“We can fight diseases with natural plants, but the challenge is that we don’t have Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory in the country and that is a critical factor, because there are leads but no laboratories; the work being done is done with foreign laboratories system.”
The optimistic BDG’s boss however mentioned that plans were on the way to develop a local biosafety laboratory. He said the researchers would, in the meantime, continue to collaborate with nations who have the laboratories for the job, stressing that the development of a Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory will be in the near future.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Abdul Bulama called on researchers, entrepreneurs, traditional medicine practitioners, and other stakeholders in the health sector to intensify efforts towards promoting and improving indigenous bioresources, natural medicine knowledge, natural products resources ,as well as initiating means of connecting these resources to the wellbeing of the citizens.
Speaking on the theme of the workshop, “Herbs, Health Foods, Herbal and Natural Products: Shifting the Boundaries of Health Care”, Dr Bukama said it was very relevant at such a time as this, when the government is aiming at using all available resources of the nation to improve on the welfare of citizens.
He described HerbFEST as a laudable initiative which had potentials to promote the production of healthy indigenous foods and herbal therapies that would assist in addressing local and global food nutrition and health challenges, encourage sustainable utilisation of local biological resources, facilitate conservation of local environment, and assist in job and wealth creation to the nation through industrial expansion, commerce, science, technology and innovation.
Bulama, who was represented by Dr Menesa Gwoza, noted that Nigeria possesses about 40 per cent of medicinal plants. He assured that the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology would continue to provide a credible platform for the development of indigenous natural resources, as well as support innovative research to assist in developing herbal resources research and development outputs, which would ultimately contribute to job and wealth creation and also improve the lives of the people.
In his own contribution, Director General of NNMDA, Dr T.F. Okujagu, who is a co-host of the event, said the overall goal of HerbFEST was to showcase the rich biodiversity and investment opportunities of Nigeria and the West African sub-region to the world. He added that the event would equally enhance the patronage/recognition, productive capacity and income status of small producers of herbal and other natural products through a combination of market promotion, enterprise development, scientific session and training, and simultaneously promote trade and investment in the bio-business sector.
Okujagu further emphasised the uniqeness of HerbFEST 2014, stating that it was targeted at bridging the health gaps created by inefficient use of natural products, showcasing research and products used from nutrition to health and promoting the activities of traditional practitioners and community health workers. He said the event was also to stimulate investment in the herbal and natural products field and contribute to transforming the country by improving health care delivery, creating jobs, wealth and contributing to national socio-economic growth and development.
In her own contribution, Pharm. Ngozi James, executive director (BRG), noted that HerbFEST represents healthy and holistic medicine. “This acts as a platform to showcase the herbal products and orthodox medicine, bringing them together under one umbrella, bridging the gap between the two is our goal”, she stated.
Pharm. James further explained that gone were the days when people went about with the mentality that natural medicines were fetish and related to the occult.
“Most of the natural products are from natural plants. Enough of importing embarrassing products from China and India. We can develop our own natural plants. We are blessed and our bio-resources are enormous. It’s time to harness our biodiversities for the benefits of man. Showcasing what we have is enough to bring investors and encourage practitioners to do better”, she said.