A national policy for herbal medicine
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CTA. 2007. A national policy for herbal medicine. Rural Radio Resource Pack 07/3. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57464
The government of The Gambia has a draft policy to integrate traditional healers into the national health system.
A national policy for herbal medicine Cue: Traditional healers and hospital doctors are often seen as rivals, who sometimes show little respect for each other?s skills and experience. In The Gambia, however, the government is taking a different attitude. It recognises the value of traditional, herbal medicine as practised by hundreds of traditional healers, and wants to integrate this into the national health policy. This raises many challenging issues. How can people be protected against bad practice, which may cause harm rather than cure? Is it possible to impose standards on traditional healers? Can they be regulated, and can the prices paid for their services be controlled? Inclusion of herbal medicine into national policy is not just a task for the health ministry. Others will also need to be involved, including ministries responsible for the environment, agriculture and trade. Bubacarr Sillah of the National Traditional Medicine Programme explained to Ismaila Senghore how this is being done in The Gambia. IN: ?We are in the process of developing ? OUT: ? traditional medicine in this country.? DUR?N: 6?01? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Bubacarr Sillah of The Gambia?s Traditional Medicine Programme. The interview comes from a resource pack produced by CTA. Transcript Sillah We are in the process of developing a national traditional medicine policy to protect consumer rights, to protect the intellectual property rights of these practitioners and at the same time to put in standards in the practice. These are some of our major considerations that prompted the development of a traditional medicine policy in The Gambia. Senghore What would be the relationship between traditional medical practice and modern medicine? Sillah Well the relation is something that WHO is opting for at the moment. In fact the policy is trying to address that issue, integration of traditional medicine into the healthcare delivery system of The Gambia, because by that we can complement government?s effort in promoting health in The Gambia. Senghore Now have you foreseen in the policy the possibility of creating structures or organisations that can allow maximum access, for example, to all who may need or require herbal medicine at a reasonable cost? Sillah What we are doing at the moment, we are trying to sensitise traditional healers, organising them into registered organisations and by that we can regulate their practice to make sure that they practise in conformity with what is required in the policy, to make traditional medicine accessible to the community, affordable and nonetheless not compromise its quality. Senghore Will you be interested to make them, for example, come into associations like cooperatives in order to be able to produce some of these medicinal plants which may prove effective in medical cure? Sillah We have been trying to do that, to organise them, at the same time to encourage them but we have some challenges. That is, people are not investing in traditional medicine in The Gambia, that is the problem. So if people were investing in traditional medicine in The Gambia, we would have developed gardens, botanical gardens for them. At the same time we would have helped them to process some of the medicines but unfortunately there is not much investment in traditional medicine. So it is very very difficult at the moment, but nonetheless we are considering all options and trying to get partners who are willing to come and help. Senghore What about the environment, because we know these are medical products that come from herbs and plants and trees and if we extract them from the environment in a manner that is not conducive to environmental preservation in the long run it may not be sustainable. So are those things being put into consideration? Sillah Of course, we are very much considering that. In fact it is one of the greatest threats to traditional medicine in this country, because deforestation, logging, bush fires, virtually we are losing most of these herbal plants in this country and eventually that is reflecting on the cost of traditional medicine, which should not be the case because usually people resort to traditional medicine because of its affordable cost. But because of scarcity of these plants now, and most of them on the verge of extinction, the traditional healers have to travel far distances to get some of these medicaments for their patients and this reflects on the cost. So this is why really we are very much considering if it is possible to try and rejuvenate our forest and at the same time make sure that we come up with other options of cultivating traditional herbal plants in this country. Senghore Now do you come across any other major constraints? I know you have talked about investment; people are not easily willing to invest in traditional medicine. Now are there any other major constraints that may prohibit the development and implementation of the products? Sillah Presently the major problem is, the financial support is very minimal indeed. Government is trying to help us but really the capacity is yet to be developed. That is one major setback and other inhibiting factors to the promotion of traditional medicine in this country, as I was telling you is deforestation. The other factor is illiteracy. Almost 95% of traditional healers in this country are all illiterates and we all know the impact of illiteracy on any development. It is very difficult for these traditional healers to organise themselves, even to keep records is a problem. So because of that it is very difficult indeed to promote traditional medicine when you have a vast majority of traditional healers being illiterate. Another thing is ageing; this practice is restricted to old people and the unfortunate thing is compounded with illiteracy; they do not make documentation of their practice. Senghore In other words the knowledge can be lost? Sillah Yes the knowledge can be lost and it is not transferred. And because practitioners are not gaining much, their children see that their parents are not getting much from it. So they are not keen at learning the skills. So eventually the old people are dying with their skills and this, as a result, is bringing down traditional medicine which might eventually lead to total obliteration in The Gambia. Senghore Therefore on a final note do you see light at the end of the tunnel when this policy is finally drawn up and it?s been implemented? Sillah Yes for sure indeed, when this policy is finally drawn up, we hope really this will regulate the practice and at the same time it will encourage other people to come into the scene to promote traditional medicine in this country. End of track.