Every day, medical scientists and practitioners are not relenting in researching towards finding permanent cures for varied diseases affecting people and animal globally. From the traditional era to the modern period, diseases have been the greatest threat to healthy living. Before the modernization of health processes and healthcare delivery, human have been known to apply different herbs to cure diseases.
The arrival of modern medical scientists and practitioners couple with the message that traditional medicines are not good because of lack of scientific verification and appropriate measurement of dosage, the world, especially Africans, Asians and other nationals of developing continents were made to believe that using traditional medicines is tantamount to having health complications.
However, the same modern medical scientists and practitioners, and global health organisations that kick against the use of traditional medicines later recognised the place of the orthodox medicines in curing global diseases. For instance, in 2018, 98 Member States of the World Health Organisation incorporated Traditional and Complementary Medicine in their national health systems, 109 had launched national laws or regulations on T&CM, and 124 had implemented regulations on herbal medicines.
As pointed out earlier, developing countries are embracing traditional medicines faster than the rest of the world. They are being used mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to the World Health Organisation, people in these continents are using the medicines because of easy availability and affordability. The world health body says about 80 percent of the population in these continents still depend on traditional medicine for their Primary Healthcare (PHC) needs.
As the debates rage on the side effects of using traditional medicine, it is instructive to note that the growth remains steady globally amidst the inability of finding total cure for many diseases and high rate of poverty, which is preventing the poor from accessing adequate healthcare solutions. From 2020 to 2023, the global herbal medicine market is expected to reach a valuation of more than USD 129 billion.
The interest in the medicine has led to substantial investment in researching how the various herbs could be proved and certified safe for the human consumption. Three developing countries, one developed country and WHO have made significant research investment in traditional herbal medicines. Companies have also invested million of US dollars searching for promising medicinal herbs and novel chemical compounds.
The Conflicts and Drivers of Herbal Medicine
In the course of searching for the right herbs for global diseases, two incidents shocked the world in 1999 and 2007 to 2016. In 1999, Nigerian Surgeon, Dr Jeremiah Abalaka announced the development of a vaccine for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The announcement was trailed by mixed reactions from the public, the Nigerian government and the global community. A few years of treating 30 people with the virus, report has it that 29 died of complications during treatment. Till today, Dr Abalaka remains resolute in his discovery, saying the Nigerian government and the western world are frustrating his efforts because of the huge money being made from the sale of anti-retroviral drugs.
Like Dr Abalaka, the former Gambian leader and President, Yahya Jammeh announced that he had a cure for Aids in 2007. From 2007 to 2016, the President through his Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP) treated AIDS patients in confinement. Throughout the months of the treatment, the patients were made to drink herbal concoctions. Similar to the issues that trailed Dr Abalaka’s vaccine, experts and medical researchers believe that the treatment violated the human rights of people living with HIV in The Gambia and compromised HIV health service delivery.
Two years after the President was ousted in an election, survivors of the treatment sued and asked for compensation from the former Gambian leader. A recent study notes that “the emergence of the presidential treatment can be understood in the political and scientific context of recent global AIDS funding and programming, and longstanding tensions between ‘ foreign’ and local concerns with biomedicine and research.”
Despite the controversies on the two incidents, it has appeared that people will continue to seek knowledge about herbs and apply them as alternative medicines to cure different diseases. Our analysis shows that since the beginning of this year, people in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Jamaica, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, Zambia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have had significant interest in herbs, looking for specific ones that could cure the diseases affecting them.
Exhibit 1: People’s Interest in the Diseases and Herbs, 2019
Select Diseases as Case
Within the Alternative and Natural Medicine, the world interest in getting the right herbs for erectile dysfunction and infertility is on the increase. About 5 percent of men that are 40 years old have complete erectile dysfunction, and that number increases to about 15 percent of men at age 70. Mild and moderate erectile dysfunction affects approximately 10 percent of men per decade of life (i.e., 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60 percent of men in their 60s). Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, but it is more common in men that are older. Older men are more likely to have health conditions that require medication, which can interfere with erectile function. Additionally, as men age, they may need more stimulation to get an erection and more time between erections.
From January to November, 2019, the interest has been high on how Ayurvedic herbs could be used for the infertility treatment. The interest has been huge on the place of Ashoka, Dashmoola, Shatavari, Aloe vera, Guduchi and Jeevanti in treating Ovulation Disorder and Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). Throughout our study period, we equally found that herbs that could cure erectile dysfunction were mostly sourced from the United States and Canada.
Globally, there is a 68.5% connection between herbs and erectile dysfunction. Herbs and low sperm count (70.00%); herbs and libido (55.2%); herbs and quick ejaculation (15.00%); herbs and infertility (76.6%). Analysis further reveals that one percent interest in herbs translated to 46.90% of looking for the herbs that could cure erectile dysfunction. It was 48.90%, 30.50%, 2.20% and 58.60% for low sperm count, low libido, quick ejaculation and infertility respectively [see exhibit 2].
Exhibit 2: Link and Facilitation of Herbs with Select Diseases
From the insights, it is clear that traditional medicine must be developed along with the modern medicine if the world is truly ready to eliminate a number of diseases by 2030, especially attaining Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages – by achieving universal health coverage (UHC), addressing health emergencies and promoting healthier populations).
As we enter a new decade, the decade that would be used to measure the realisation of the goal and others, global leaders, experts and industries need to see the reason for the integration of the best traditional medicine practice with the modern medicine practice. This will go in a long way of tackling the peculiar health challenges in each continent.