Investing in traditional medicine in the health system

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According to the World Health Organization, 80% of the world’s emerging population depends on traditional medicine for therapy. In recent decades, the developed world has also witnessed an upward trend in the use of traditional medicine.

It is therefore not surprising that in many rural areas of Africa, traditional medicine practitioners are the most easily accessible and affordable health resource available to the local community and sometimes the only therapy that exists. This makes the use of traditional medicine a fundamental component of the African health system, the oldest and perhaps the most varied of all health systems.

Studies conducted in developed countries such as Germany and Canada have shown that at least 70% of their population have tried traditional medicine (complementary or alternative medicine) at least once. In Ethiopia, 90% of the population uses herbal remedies for their primary health care.

Given the essential role of traditional medicine in the African health system, African governments need to reposition traditional medicine and give proper recognition and support to improve the image and standard of traditional medicine practice.

Despite the extensive use of traditional medicine in Africa, there remains a significant lack of support and acceptance for its use in the formal health system across the continent.

Given the essential role of traditional medicine in the African health system, African governments need to reposition traditional medicine and give proper recognition and support to improve the image and standard of traditional medicine practice in Africa. It is essential to understand the current role it plays and its future possibilities within broader health systems.

Traditional medicine (TM) refers to the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and indigenous experiences of different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical illnesses. and mental illnesses. Traditional medicine that has been adopted by other populations (outside of its native culture) is often referred to as complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).

The steady increase in the prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases contributes significantly to the burden of disease in Africa and increases the burden on health systems already strained due to the high incidence of infectious diseases. Given the widespread use of CAMs for chronic diseases reported outside of Africa, it is evident that traditional medicine will also play a vital role in the health of people with chronic diseases in Africa and is essential to address the burden of disease in Africa.

In addition to improving people’s health and quality of life and reducing the burden on conventional healthcare systems, exploring knowledge value chains in natural medicine can promote economic growth and overall development. on the continent.

Challenges hindering the development of TM in Africa include inadequate policies and legal frameworks, near absence of documentation of results of the practice and bio-resources, issues of secrecy and fear of loss of property intellectual property and benefit sharing, and inadequate clinical research data to validate traditional medicine knowledge, products and technologies needed to transform these resources into innovative and marketable products that are widely accepted by clinicians and the public.

Despite these challenges, the demand and use of TM has continued to grow not only in Africa but also worldwide. African governments must therefore create an enabling environment that facilitates collaboration between research institutes, practitioners, private organizations and other stakeholders in the trado-medicinal sector to strengthen local capacities for the development of traditional medicines.

Read also: Leveraging the role of traditional medicine in the health system

Considering these elements, the following strategies aim to strengthen the use of TM in the African health system:

African governments should establish national policies and laws that define and standardize core TM concepts, define areas of practice, and support the recruitment, registration, intellectual property rights and privileges of TM practitioners .

Adequate funding from national budgets and external sources is needed to ensure the active participation of TM practitioners in national health care delivery. Adequate financial support is a key factor in the effective implementation of policies, programs and projects aimed at promoting the use of TM.

To ensure evidence-based use of TM, research needs to be intensified on knowledge, practices and behaviors, as well as on safety, efficacy and quality to strengthen the role of TM in health systems. health. Academic and research institutions should be funded to take a lead in these efforts. Inter-country, regional and international collaborations in the research, cultivation and use of medicinal plants should be encouraged.

It is worth mentioning that in Nigeria, Bloom Public Health has partnered with the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) to support its capacity building efforts and help establish quality management systems that meet international standards of operation, as well as assist research in ensuring the availability of safe medicines from local sources for Nigerian citizens. Such strategic public-private partnerships can be emulated to strengthen the use of traditional medicine in Africa.

The reality of the widespread use of TM in Africa cannot be ignored. Regulatory and scientific support to ensure evidence-based use of TM is therefore essential to strengthen the trado-medicine sector and explore the opportunity it offers towards achieving universal health coverage.

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