For many, especially in developing countries, traditional medicine is their first choice of remedy for any adverse health condition.
This is particularly true for those living in remote or marginalised areas, where distance and cost are barriers to orthodox treatment.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) pegs Ghana's population that sees traditional medicine as a desirable and necessary means of treating problems that Western medicine cannot adequately remedy at round 70 percent.
With just one medically trained doctor per 1,200 patients and one traditional medicine practitioner per 400 patients, traditional medicine has an important role to play in meeting equitable healthcare delivery goals.
Ghana's drive to transform traditional medicine into a potent vehicle for healthcare delivery has been on track since the 1990s.
In 1994, the Traditional and Alternative Medicines Directorate was established under the Ministry of Health. This was an important first step in integrating traditional herbal practice into Ghana's health-care delivery system.
Its mission is to make available, a well-defined, recognisable, complementary system of health based on “excellence in traditional and alternative medicine knowledge”.
The Traditional Medicine Practice Act (Act 575) of 2000 further bolstered government policy, requiring practitioners to register with the Traditional Medical Practice Council; an important move in raising standards and formalising traditional medical practice.
DAILY GUIDE, in an interview with the Acting Director of the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Directorate of the Ministry of Health, Pharm. Dr (Mrs) Anastasia Yirenkyi, delved into the role of traditional medicine in the national healthcare delivery and the up-coming traditional and alternative medicine week celebration.
Jamila: Dr Anas, what is traditional medicine all about?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Traditional medicine, also known as indigenous or folk medicine, is defined by World Health Organisation (WHO) as the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.
Jamila: What does it comprise of then?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: It comprises of medical aspects of traditional knowledge that developed over generations within various societies and cultures before the era of modern medicine, which in many cases have been orally passed on from generations to generation.
Jamila: Are there the types of traditional alternative or complementary medicine?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Many different areas make up the practice of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This field includes herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic and osteopathic medicine, massage therapy, cupping therapy, moxibustion, body movement therapies, yoga, nutrition or diet, electromagnetic therapy, meditation, biofeedback, art, dance, music, etc.
All these therapies are used as alternative which are complementary to modern medicine and takes care of the body, the mind and the senses.
Even standard or conventional medicine recognises the power of the connection between mind and body. Studies have found that people heal better if they have balanced emotional and mental health.
Jamila: What is the history of traditional medicine?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Long before the introduction of scientific medical care by Europeans, African nationals, including Ghanaians, relied on traditional medicines for the cure and treatment of tropical ailments like malaria, headaches, stomach, skin diseases and many more.
Native doctors in Africa who have been responsible for curing people learned their trades from their ancestors as a family recipe that relied on herbs, tree backs and roots, seeds, flowers and fruits for the treatment of ailments.
This method of medical care is so popular that it has been in use even now side by side with the scientific medical care in our towns and villages.
Jamila: What changed the phase of traditional medicine practice?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: The 1978 Alma-Ata Declaration cited traditional practitioners among health workers that primary healthcare (PHC) relies on to respond to express health needs of the community.
Since then, the WHO governing bodies and countries have adopted resolutions on traditional medicine.
In Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah initiated efforts to promote traditional medicine practice in 1961. He created the Ghana Psychic and Traditional Healers Association, which aims at upholding, promoting and protecting the best in psychic and traditional healing in Ghana.
Jamila: What happened afterwards?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Since then, successive governments have contributed to the development of traditional medicine by establishing the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM), now Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR) at Mampong-Akuapem in 1975.
The centre was mandated to conduct and promote research for the improvement of phyto-medicines or plant medicines.
The institution which is also an agency of the Ministry of Health (MoH) has, since its establishment, developed 35 well researched plant-based products.
The Primary Health Training for Indigenous Healers project (PRHETIH), which was organised by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Catholic Holy Family Hospital followed in 1979.
Pharmaceutical sector survey was subsequently done with reference to traditional medicine production capacity needs in 1985.
Jamila: When was the practice incorporated into the Ministry of Health's activities?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: In 1991, the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Department was set up within the Ministry of Health (MoH ) to strengthen and give direction to the development and promotion of Traditional Medicines in Ghana, with special emphasis on herbal medicine.
The department was elevated to a full directorate, the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Directorate (TAMD) in 1999, which has been headed by a director since then.
This was then followed by the promulgation of the Food and Drugs Laws, 1992, (PNDCL 305B) to regulate herbal medicines and the practice of traditional medicine in 1992, which, among others, is to certify the sale of traditional medicine products to the public.
The Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine (GHAFTRAM) was established in 1999 by the then government under the auspices of the Council for Indigenous Business Associations (CIBA) in Ghana.
The Traditional Medicine Practice Act, (Act 575) came into being in the year 2000 to regulate herbal medicines and the practice of traditional medicine.
Jamila: What is the success story of traditional medicine practice in Ghana?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Through the efforts of our stakeholders and key industry players, Ghana like other African countries, has chalked tremendous successes in traditional medicine.
Some of these successes include: policy formulation – formulation of national policies and regulatory frameworks on traditional medicine.
Ghana is among countries conducting research on traditional medicines used for the treatment of malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, buruli ulcer, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, cancers, etc, in order to produce evidence-based report on safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicines which have reported promising results.
There has also been development of medicinal plants monographs and herbal pharmacopoeias, of which the first and second editions have been published.
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, again, established a BSc Herbal Medicine Programme in 2001 to train medical herbalists.
The country has successfully integrated herbal medicine in 19 selected hospitals across the nation.
Traditional modes of production have improved with the introduction of modern technologies to produce, package and market traditional medicines.
Many practitioners, especially larger operations, now use grinding and mixing machines, blenders, apparatus for bottling and filling tubes and capsules and stainless steel boilers.
More sophisticated producers also assure quality using pH meters and analyzers. Some traditional herbal clinics also use modern diagnostics.
Jamila: Tell me about the Traditional Medicine Week celebration?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: The WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) and African Union (AU) have recommended the celebration of African Traditional Medicine Day.
The day is to be commemorated in all AU and WHO-AFRO regions for strengthening health systems by promoting best practices and for discouraging bad practices.
The concept was born from the realisation that a well-developed traditional medicine system can contribute significantly to healthcare and the neglect of it would be detrimental to healthcare services in the communities.
Some countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Uganda and Mali have instituted a national Traditional Medicine Week, with Ghana being the first to celebrate among these countries.
The Ministry of Health of Ghana, in collaboration with The Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine Practitioners Associations (GHAFTRAM), also known as The Federation, celebrates the 18th Traditional Week, whilst the other African nations celebrate the 15th African Traditional Day.
Jamila: Do you have activities lined-up for the celebration?
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: The theme for this year's Traditional Medicine Week celebration is 'Integration of Traditional Medicine In Health Systems: The Journey So Far'. The celebration is slated from the 20th to 22nd November, 2017 at GNAT Hall, Koforidua in the Eastern Region.
We will have free medical screening at GNAT Hall car park, where over thousands of residents will be screened for malaria, diabetes, etc. on 20th to 21st November, 2017, then an exhibition and scientific seminar on 21st November, 2017 – opening of exhibition and then the climax will be the commemoration day on 22nd November, 2017.
Jamila: Thank you for your time, Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi.
Dr Anastasia Yirenkyi: Thank you, Jamila.
Hospitals In Ghana With Herbal Medicine Units
Greater Accra Region-LEKMA Hospital, (Teshie), Shai-Osudoku District Hospital (Dodowa), Tema Policlinic
Central Region – Cape Coast Metropolitan Hospital
Western Region- Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital
Eastern Region- Eastern Regional Hospital (Koforidua)
Ashanti Region- Obuasi Municipal Hospital, Kumasi South Hospital, Suntreso Government Hospital, Tafo Government Hospital
Brong-Ahafo – Brong-Ahafo Regional Hospital (Sunyani)
Volta Region – Ho Municipal Hospital, Volta Regional Hospital (Ho)
Northern Region- Salaga Government Hospital, Tamale Central Hospital, Tamale West and Yendi Government Hospital
Upper West – Upper West Regional Hospital (Wa)
Upper East- Upper East Regional Hospital (Bolgatanga)
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri