AFRICA AND CHINA are two land masses steeped in tradition. Yet, China earns enormous amounts of hard currency from its traditional medicine while Africa hardly receives a dollar for its own. Something definitely must be amiss!
And it would appear that Dr Archie Sittie, acting Director, Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM), Mampong has correctly put his fingers on it – the lack of manufacturing standards.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Traditional Medicines Manufacturing Union of Ghana (TRAMMUG) in Accra recently, Dr Sittie urged traditional medicine practitioners to adhere to international standards and regulations, pointing out that that is the only way they could “penetrate the international market”.
Dr Sittie believed that such adherence to internationally approved standards would bring at least two benefits: “Apart from forestalling complications and deaths resulting from poor and unregulated manufacturing processes, the manufacturers, consumers and the country would benefit from quality and developed traditional drugs if approved processing rules were adhered to”, he said.
He added that manufacturing and administration of drugs border on the life of people and that “any mishap on the part of manufacturers would result in calamities”. This is indisputable truth.
With the TRAMMUG seeking to “regulate the operations” of traditional practitioners as one of its aims, the occasion of its inauguration was appropriate for the drumming home of the message of quality control and professionalism.
The GYE NYAME CONCORD thinks, however, that mere reiteration of the need for something, as has been the case in the past, without any concrete steps to remove the problem only begs the issue.
The problem, as we see it, is one of safe dosage determination, conversion to tablets and packaging. All these require capital which is mostly non-existent.
Though figures are not available, there cannot be much doubt as to what the Chinese traditional medicine export market contributes to the Chinese Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It must be quite substantial, given that Chinese traditional medicines sell all over the world, even in the G-8 countries.
That being the case, GYE NYAME CONCORD will urge the CSRPM to make a persuasive case to the government to source for money to set up a central tablet making control centre for the modern manufacture, according to approve international standards of all traditional medicine concoctions that it grants its seal of approval. The objective is to achieve the type of streamlined, glossy tablets that are available on the international market.
Once that is done and with proper marketing, Ghanaian traditional medicine will sell internationally the way the Chinese ones are doing and, over time, achieve the economies of scale that the Chinese products have.
The money for the centre could be paid off from the foreign exchange generated from the sale of its output internationally or from levies attached to the approving process. Even if the money is not repaid eventually, the government should regard it as part of the annual health capital budget to the health sector.
The mileage that China as a nation gets out of the international acceptability of its traditional medical products is incalculable, and Ghana would derive similar image-boosting mileage if her traditional medical products also become acceptable worldwide.
Our big sister to our east, Nigeria, is currently spending millions of dollars to polish its international image under a project codenamed by President Olusegun Obasanjo's team as “Nigeria Image Project”. This is money from the national budget that nobody would be called upon to repay. And this is a project that stands the danger of being dismissed out of hand as propaganda without any substantial base.
But a programme to get our traditional medicine accepted internationally cannot be similarly; for its fruits will speak for themselves. With appropriate government support the money for it need not even come out of budget as it could be from a World Health Organisation (WHO) grant.
Gye Nyame Concord therefore calls on Dr Sittie to, in addition to his rostrum speeches, begin the approach to government today to actualise the dream of Ghanaian traditional medical products taking the global village by storm!