Pharmacists in the country have been enjoined to take over control of herbal medicine from non-professionals and semi-literate practitioners.
Speaking at a two-day workshop jointly organised by the West Africa Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) at the college’s secretariat in Yaba on 26 May, Prof. Mbang Femi-Oyewo, dean, Faculty of Pharmacy, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) said pharmacists cannot afford to have non-professionals dictating the pace when it comes to the issue of herbal medicine.
“I am happy that Nigerians are beginning to look towards herbal medicine these days. Unfortunately, those who didn’t go to school are the ones controlling things. This is why we need to take over as professionals and do things the way they are supposed to be done. They must be well formulated, properly labelled, safe for use and quite affordable,” she noted.
When reminded how expensive herbal research and production can be, the dean remarked that while the observation is true, pharmacists know better than to despise the days of humble beginning.
“It has been done in many countries, especially China and India. They have equally discovered that there are some herbal products that are quite nutritional; hence the influx of what we know today as Nutri-ceuticals.
“I think the problem that often arises is that of safety measures and documentation. The truth is that herbs work in a subtle way. Some give instant relief while others take some time. But if it is obvious that you are not getting result, it is time to seek help from physicians,” she said.
Prof. (Mrs) Cecilia Igwilo, chairman, WAPCP’s Faculty of Drug Production and Quality Assurance, also affirmed that Nigeria had been using herbal products for quite a long time.
“It is a known fact that people in the rural and even some urban areas use a lot of herbal medicine. As expected, we have herbs for headache, stomach upset and several ailments.
“For instance, I use ‘efirin’ (basil plant) whenever I have a mild stomach upset. One important thing to note is that there are several benefits attached to the use of medicinal plants like bitter leaf, kola, garlic, ginger and the likes,” she hinted.
On the desired properties of a good herbal formulation, Dr Chuks Azubuike, a senior lecturer in the Department of Pharmaceutics, University of Lagos (UNILAG), stressed that such must be accepted, economical for large scale manufacture, chemically and physically packaged, preserved against microbial contamination, able to provide correct dose of drug and therapeutically correct.
In a related development, Prof. Udoma Mendie, former dean, UNILAG’s Faculty of Pharmacy harped on packaging and safety of herbal products, saying a good herbal product must have anti-counterfeiting features, Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) anti-tampering device and child-resistant packaging.
Congratulating participants at the workshop, Pharm Iyiola Gbolagade, PSN national secretary said he was certain that much knowledge had been received.
“I don’t want to agree with the perception that Nigerians have negative feeling towards herbal medicine. Everything you get from herbs is not necessarily fetish and it has nothing to do with witchcraft.
“I recall that the first thing our people do whenever a woman gives birth is to go and cut roots and leaves to be boiled for her. It has nothing to do with incantation or charms. It is as good as orthodox medicine,” he said.
The PSN secretary however observed that the only challenge that needs to be addressed is ensuring that herbal practitioners are producing and giving people the right formulations.
“That is where I believe we need to work on. For instance, as a community pharmacist, when people approach us with complaints about an ailment, we always want to find out whether they have taken a pain reliever like paracetamol or herbs before coming,” he said.
He berated self-styled herbal practitioners hawking suspicious contents they describe as herbs in little containers and selling especially to the public.
“What we want to ensure is that they are not just concocting all sorts of rubbish and giving to people. We are concerned about safety. That is why PSN is proudly collaborating with WAPCP.
“In Nigeria, the common denominator of what people do is money. That is why we are saying pharmacists, whom herbal medicine is supposed to be in their purview by virtue of our training, should take up the gauntlet and challenge the quacks,” he charged.
Expressing satisfaction with the two-day seminar, Prof. Wilson Erhun, WAPCP secretary general reported that research has shown that the use of herbal products is on the increase.
“People are having increased confidence in the use of herbal products. We seem to have a gap in terms of validation when it comes to safety and good quality. That demands empowerment.
“What the college is doing now is to try and empower pharmacists and herbal practitioners to be able to focus on these products so that they will be safer for consumption,” he emphasised.
Erhun also announced that WAPCP was reaching out to all the countries that are involved (as seen in an earlier presentation on Sierra Leone) which are at a disadvantaged position compared to Nigeria.
“We are trying to equip more of these countries. Herbal production is more of research and development. When you look at the likes of China and India, it is not as if their products are superior to ours,” he said.
The WAPCP secretary however conceded that funding is a challenge, adding that once there is no funding, research becomes a problem.
Also in attendance at the event were Prof Olukemi Odukoya, former dean of UNILAG Faculty of Pharmacy; Pharm. Wilson Ukachi, WAPCP administrative manager; Ibeji Ifeoma, WAPCP account officer; and Dare Kute, WAPCP administrative assistant.