Traditional and Alternative Medicine or Traditional African Medicine (TAM) is an indigenous form of healing modality that is commonly practiced all over Africa . This therapeutic system has no connection with conventional medicine and is generally used as an alternative to mainstream medicine. Various approaches that are adopted in TAM to heal a patient includes botanical medicine; minerals, exercises, manual techniques, spiritual therapy, etc. TAM practitioners use all these approaches either singularly or in combination for the treatment of patients. A substantial focus is given to the early diagnosis of illness, its prevention, and overall maintenance of well-being. Published research studies have indicated that TAM is very popular in Nigeria . Many patients suffering from various chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, epilepsy, asthma, sickle cell disease, etc., are found to be dependent on TAM.
Unlike conventional medicine, TAM is not taught in medical school and the accumulated knowledge and experience of the practitioners is passed from one generation to another by word-of-mouth. Because of this TAM is not well standardized like conventional medicine and is poorly regulated. As a result, the acceptance is not good among the scientific community. To many, it is simple quackery but to others living in marginalized conditions, TAM is a lifeline. Conventional medicine is good but it is out of reach for many living in economically challenging conditions. Despite TAM may not be the first choice but there is very less option available to people living in the developing world where the medical facilities are not adequate. Moreover, many are happy with TAM as it suits their cultural milieu and some still fear visiting a clinic.
Looking at the fact that an unprecedented number of people in Nigeria are trying TAM, the Federal government through the Ministry of Health has taken many steps to promote the practice of traditional medicine in the country . National Policy on Traditional Medicine, Laws and Regulations was developed in 2004. In 2020, the Ministry of Health approved the establishment of a Council for Traditional, Alternative, and Complementary Medicine Practice in Nigeria. However, many issues have to be solved to promote TAM. There is no distinct legal framework created by the Federal government to monitor or control the practice of traditional medicine in Nigeria. Quality control of herbal medicine is very important as batch-to-batch variation is not very uncommon. Sometimes herbal medicine can also contain harmful substances because Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) were not followed.
To promote TAM, it has to be properly researched and institutionalized. So far no university in Nigeria offers full-fledged courses on TAM or ‘Herbal Medicine.’ National University Commission still doesn’t have any courses on TAM enlisted in their course curriculum. To encourage the spread and reliability of TAM proper research and clinical studies must be done, only then the confidence of the public will be stronger. Like it had happened with Ayurveda in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China. Global acceptance and popularity of both these alternative healing practices have skyrocketed in recent years. The same can happen with TAM provided it is properly taught, researched, and documented.
- Chitindingu E, George G, Gow J. A review of the integration of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine into the curriculum of South African medical schools. BMC Med Educ 2014; 28; 14:40.
- Li S, Odedina S, Agwai I, Ojengbede O, Huo D, Olopade OI. Traditional medicine usage among adult women in Ibadan, Nigeria: a cross-sectional study. BMC Complement Med Ther 2020; 20(1): 93.
- Awodele O, Amagon KI, Wannang NW, Aguiyi JC. Traditional medicine policy and regulation in Nigeria: an index of herbal medicine safety. Curr Drug Safety 2014, 9(1): 16-22.
Dr. Sanjoy Kumar Pal is a Professor of Biology in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a PhD. in Animal Genetics from Indian Veterinary Research Institute, India.