The beauty of orthodox medicine lies largely in its strict adherence to ethical rules and regulations which guide its application to the human condition. When a person is sick, the first thing a physician does is to examine the symptoms to identify the sickness. He does not depend on assumptions. Instead, he evaluates these symptoms and, where necessary, recommends some laboratory tests.
This ethical procedure means that the practitioner relies on the scientific examination of the patient’s complaints to arrive at a decision on the mode of treatment to be prescribed, lest he violates the Hippocratic Oath he had sworn to. Unfortunately, except in few instances, herbal medicine practice in Nigeria does not depend on scientific methodology to arrive at its therapeutic decisions. As a result of this arbitrariness, it subjects the entire practice to many grave dangers in terms of dosage, drug interaction and reaction. It somewhat blinds itself to the adverse effects, which its unstandardised procedures could have on vital organs of the body, like the liver, the heart and the kidney.
Whereas in countries like China and India, herbal medicine practice has been upgraded to that level where science and technology have been integrated into its practice, the same cannot be said of Africa with absolute assurance. These Asian countries, in spite of their pedigree in psychic, zodiac and occult practices, still find a way to detach herbal medicine practice from the speculative worldview of spiritualism which has become one of the biggest threats to human health in Africa and Nigeria, in particular, as charlatans continue to have a field day.
Of course, this does not mean that every herbal concoction from the Asian countries should be accepted and consumed with dispatch. Never! NAFDAC, SON and other relevant regulatory agencies must carry out strict quality assurance measures before even allowing them into the Nigerian market.
Sadly, on Lagos streets and at motor parks, one is bombarded with all forms of herbal concoctions by vendors who claim they can cure every ailment on earth, from high blood pressure, diabetes and erectile dysfunction to typhoid, malaria, ulcer and haemorrhoids. The first and most telling characteristic that these quacks share is usually illiteracy and ignorance – which is sometimes amplified by an incurable illusion of grandeur emanating from the misguided belief that they inherited their medical know-how from unverifiable ancestries. As can be easily imagined, their case is like the proverbial blind leading the blind. They have sent many people to their early graves due to their opinionated claims to herbal ingenuity.
NAFDAC has been having sleepless nights over the activities of this group of people but the public seems to be aiding their atrocities by refusing to heed all the warnings from various health institutions concerning the unwholesomeness of their products. Indeed, it has become very worrisome that people who have no knowledge of Medicine or Pharmacy are laying claims to medical expertise.
While there are some established herbal medicine practitioners in Nigeria whose products have received NAFDAC approval and have been in circulation for a while now, this reality does not guarantee an all-comers kind of liberty. In safeguarding the health of the nation, NAFDAC has to continue to maintain its strict food and drug administration and control policy.
Additionally, the Nigerian government must ensure the enactment and enforcement of appropriate legal sanctions against those who violate NAFDAC rules and regulations regarding unregistered foods and drugs. Prosecutions must be swiftly, constantly and impartially carried out so that the dispensation of justice is neither handicapped by unnecessary bureaucratic strictures nor frustrated by lack of political will.