By Temitope Obayendo
Rising from a three-day scientific conference, stakeholders at the recently concluded herbs, health foods and natural products expo, HerbFest 2013, have called on the National Assembly to expedite action on the implementation of the Nigerian traditional medicine bill before it.
This was contained in a fifteen-point communiqué issued after the conference.The statement was jointly signed by the organisers of the programme, namely, the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) and the International Centre for Ethnomedicine and Drug Development (InterCEDD).
Participants at the conference themed: “Development of Novel Natural Products as Dietary Supplements, Phytomedicines and Nutraceuticals”, lamented how their various efforts aimed at sensitising the public on the use of herbal medicines in the country had been impeded by the non-implementation of the National Traditional Medicine Policy and the passage of the Nigerian Traditional Medicine Bill before the National Assembly.
It was also recommended by stakeholders at the meeting that the media, NGOs, Not-for-profit organisations and relevant government agencies should be engaged in aggressive awareness, sensitisation and reorientation campaigns on the importance of promoting indigenous medicinal/natural products in Nigeria.
The conference further advocated special and adequate training programmes on packaging and branding for Nigerian entrepreneurs involved in the production of natural products, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals, in order to raise standard and make their products globally competitive.
The industry key players also called on relevant regulatory agencies to collaborate with stakeholders in order to develop a unique and uniform Standard of Reference in line with international standards for the production of herbal/natural products which is important for Quality Assurance.
“Government should facilitate interest-free loans and waivers on import duty on equipment, and other necessary materials used in the production of herbal products, in order to reduce cost of production,” they urged; adding that “in line with Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), there is need to promote commercial cultivation of medicinal plants which will lead to job and wealth creation.”
The participants also urged pharmacists across the country to ensure the existence of a well-established Pharmaco-vigilance operation for herbal medicines, in order to monitor and evaluate the adverse effects on users.
The event, which was well-attended by top functionaries in the health sector, had Prof. Olusegun Adewoye, immediate past director general/chief executive, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), as the chairman of the opening ceremony; while the special guest of honour, Prof OnyebuchiChukwu, Honourable Minister of Health, was ably represented by Prof K. S. Gamaniel, director general/chief executive of National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD). Mrs. Rabi Jimetamni, permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, who declared the event open, was represented by Dr M. T. Gwaza.
Other dignitaries at the event were T.F. Okujagu, director general/chief executive, Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency; Prof. Maurice Iwu, chairman,Bioresources Development Group (BDG), who delivered the keynote address titled “Food as Medicines”; Prof. Elijah Sokomba, former national coordinator,Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme; Mr.Denzil Philips, founder/director, African Association of Medicinal Plants Standards; Mrs.Hauwa Keri, representing the director general/chief executive of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr Paul Orhii;Dr W. Siyanbola, director general/chief executive, National Center for Technology Management (NACETEM); Hajiya Zainab Sherif, managing director, Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company, and others.
Meanwhile, to bridge the gap between the discovery and clinical development of herbal medicines in Nigeria, Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr Paul Orhii, has called for a strong collaboration between the research and development institutions and pharmaceutical companies.
Speaking on the topic: “Registration, Regulation and Development of Herbal Medicinal/Natural Food Products: Hidden Strategies to Making It Work”, Dr Orhii said a close and complementary relationship between the academic community and the industry is critical to ensuring a robust national pharmaceutical research capacity for the development of medicinal products.
“The relationship between the academia and the pharmaceutical companies is complementary and naturally lends itself to the formation of joint research enterprises”, he stated.
Explaining further, he said while the academia brings strong insight into the fundamental mechanisms of disease along with expertise in patient care and clinical practice, the industry possesses the knowledge and tools to translate basic research discoveries into practical applications in patients. Collaboration between both sectors will therefore indicate a synergistic relationship between academic research and commercial activity.
The agency helmsman also urged the research institutions and the pharmaceutical industries to learn from the examples of India and China, by embarking on indigenous phytomedicines standardisation and have a local agenda for such research and development.
On standardisation and quality control of herbs in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, he noted that there was a need for deliberate policy on medicinal plants standardisation, including the procedures and methods for sourcing, collecting, drying, processing, packaging etc. of raw materials from the field to the bottle, covering planting, manuring, tendering to harvest and storage of raw materials.
“We must have QC (quality control) and standardise extraction procedures and preparation of biomass to dosage form. Factors such as the use of fresh plants, age and part of plant collected, period, time and method of collection, temperature of processing, exposure to light, availability of water, nutrients, drying, packing, transportation of raw material and storage, can greatly affect the quality, and hence the therapeutic value of herbal medicines”, he stressed.
He also noted the indispensability of regulation, asserting that since herbal medicine is multicomponent, it would be difficult to isolate each plant. This therefore validates the need for standardisation, a strategy the Indians adopted for their Ayuvedic medicine and China for their TCM.
Orhii, who also appealed to manufacturers and processors of natural products to abide by the agency’s guidelines on registration of their products, decried the difficulties encountered in the process of regulating the activities of product manufacturers.
“Although Nigeria has a national policy on traditional medicine and NAFDAC regulations cover requirements for registration of natural products, with guidelines, getting manufacturers/ processors to comply is still a herculean task, as control is incorrectly perceived to be ‘’discouragement” and “bottlenecks’’. However, we cannot continue to lament on the ‘’burden’’ of regulatory compliance, because it is a necessary tool for guaranteeing safety and quality”, he pointed out.