The recognition given to traditional medicines in the national health delivery system will receive a further boost when plans for practitioners to work alongside orthodox medicine practitioners in public health institutions become a reality.
The proposed system will be such that orthodox medicine practitioners could, on the assessment of a patient's condition, refer him or her to a traditional medicine practitioner within the same public health institution, and vice versa.
The Chief Pharmacist, Mr Felix D. Yellu, who made this known in an interview, said the idea was to give comprehensive health care to patients, adding that it was better for the two practitioners to work together.
"Everything is almost ready and any moment from now you will go to the hospital and see them practising side by side,” he indicated, adding, “All the planning work has been done and the job description of these people has been written."
Mr Yellu said the Directorate of Traditional Medicines at the Ministry of Health (MOH) would soon set up regional offices to co-ordinate the activities of herbal medicine practitioners.
He said adequate preparations had been made for the beginning of the system and cited the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine at Mampong-Akuapem in the Eastern Region as one of the institutions providing support for the system.
Furthermore, he said, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Science and Pharmacy at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi had started producing graduates in Herbal Medicines, while a directorate for traditional medicines had been created at the MOH.
In addition, a Council for Traditional Medicines, just like the Pharmacy Council, had also been created to regulate the activities of traditional medicine practitioners.
"The structures and infrastructure have been set up and the human resource is being developed at a very high level. This means that eventually traditional medicine practice will be improved," the chief pharmacist pointed out.
"Much has been done; we are almost there,"
Mr Yellu said it was important to tap the expertise of traditional medicine practitioners at the community level and remarked that "the wise herbal medicine student will be the one who will go and understudy a traditional medicine practitioner so that he can add that to what he knows as a scientist".
Over the years, majority of Ghanaians have expressed faith in traditional medicines and experts say about 70 per cent of them, especially those in rural areas, consult traditional medicine practitioners for various reasons, including flexible payment terms, acceptability, accessibility and quick service.
According to Mr Yellu, it was in recognition of that reality that the World Health Organisation (WHO) started the initiative to bring orthodox and traditional medicine practitioners together under one setting, with the view to fine-tuning traditional medicine practice for the benefit of the people.
Hitherto, there had been mutual suspicion between modern medicine and traditional medicine practitioners. While the former generally did not believe in the efficacy of traditional medicines, the latter often undermined orthodox medicine treatment for patients.
As of now, the MOH has accepted traditional medicine practice as a matter of policy but the past mutual suspicion between the two sets of practitioners is likely to come up when the new system is rolled out.
But the chief pharmacist was optimistic that despite the challenges, the new system would succeed.
"Any new thing is not easy to accept but gradually the people will accept it," he said.
Story By Kofi Yeboah