Prof Magnus Atilade is an authority in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Traditional Medicine (TM) in Nigeria. In this interview, the chiropractor tells OYEYEMI GBENGA-MUSTAPHA how CAM and TM fields are evolving in the country, and the challenges hindering same. Excerpts:What is your candid assessment of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Traditional medicine in Nigeria at the moment?
It has been a long journey. We the practitioners give thanks to God. There is a great hope for the future. The journey started with non-recognition, non-acceptance, denial, accusations and counter-accusations, fraud and manipulation and character assassination, just to hang the profession. We have overcome all that, and we are looking forward to further recognition, because the government has recognised it. For instance Complementary and Alternative Medicine) has been put under the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN). I served as the first representative of CAM in MDCN. I and others that came on board have been making progress gradually. This is in tandem with Traditional Medicine (TM). It is gladdening that we are getting to the third reading of the Traditional Medicine bill, and awaiting its passage.
Despite the rich flora and fauna in Nigeria, there is still importation of foreign herbal products being circulated through high level multi marketing. What do you say to that?
Any person who does not harness his own good resources will expose himself to exploitation and short changing. Nigeria is rich in herbal traditional medicines. It boasts the best in flora, fauna, and expertise. Some Nigerian herbal products have been researched, and even sold in other continents. Ignorance and other factors are what actually make people go into marketing or use of such foreign products. Part of the challenge is that it took time before the government could give due recognition to the practice of traditional medicine and CAM. Nigerian market is flooded with all sorts of foreign herbal products that are substandard and hinder wellness of human organs, and hinders the local market. Most people fall for imported herbal products because of packaging not realising that Nigeria has far more potent herbal and phototherapy medicines in abundance. The radiation, the sun, water and other factors that come into play for human healing are peculiar to different races. Nigerians should use the herbal plants that they breathe into, and they in turn emit to us. There is a deep cross-fertilisation between human and the plants, which aids healing and wellness. So what we have in Nigeria is to take care of us as Nigerians.
But the issue of disunity, rancour and suspicion are rampant among practitioners, which impede a common front in accessing meaningful support from the government. Don’t you think a unified umbrella is needed to achieve more for the practice?
Well, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. The Federal Government has recognised a body called NANTMP (National Association of Nigerian Traditional Medicine Practitioners).The Federal Government has equally set up a department headed by a pharmacist, Hajia Zainab Sherif, who herself is into herbal medicine. So we are happy that has been done, and more progress is expected. She is competent and very reliable. All other interest groups are being made to come under the umbrella of NANTMP. This is because NANTMP is recognised as the national umbrella body for all practitioners across the county. We are making moves to reestablish same, and carry all and sundry along so TM and CAM can take its rightful place in the health sector.
As it is now, what do you think can be done for TM and CAM to be more acceptable, developed, and patronised in Nigeria?
To the glory of God, CAM and TM have weathered the storm. There was a time they were seen as fetish, devilish, even the word ‘herbalist’ was twisted to mean a killer or somebody into voodooism. It took a long hard-work to demystify herbal medicine from misconceptions. It is now being accepted as an art of healing, using indigenous herbal plants. Many credible practitioners put in a hard work indeed, towards this. So, the orientation is changing. We now have herbal products being well packaged. People are not realising that God, in His design of the world, put all these things in our charge as humans to tap into them for our consumption as food and healing, which is taking care of our health. There is nothing fetish about eating pumpkin leaves (Ugwu) or Yoruba Ewedu to get folic acid or improve anemic condition or Orogbo (Bitter Kola) for better eye sight. Or water for proper hydration and rehydration or using professional manipulation to set the skeletal system in place. The herbal plants that our forefathers consumed made them to be sturdy and strong. The slave masters realised that the ones from Africa, especially from West Africa, stood out among the people taken into slavery because they withstood the stress and rigour involved in slavery and plantations. Each race has its own way of taking care of its people. Our TM is not inferior to others across the globe at all.
What do you think the government can do to further improve the development and acceptability of Traditional medicine?
Federal Government should enlarge the coast line for Traditional Medicine by making sure that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It should support evidence-based research, especially into all the terminal diseases, and chronic illnesses. For instance, the Council of Physicians of Traditional and Alternative Medicine is partnering Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, on efficacy of some herbs and plants. Nature has answer to all the diseases that afflict mankind. Nigeria should look inward and get it right in traditional medicine by funding research, and encouraging traditional healers to come forward with their treatments for different diseases, and assure them of Intellectual Property (IP).
What do you see as part of the breakthrough for CAM and TM?
Orthodox practitioners are not allowing the Federal Government to look into other solutions aside medicine. But small doors and windows are being opened and it is good that results around the world like Ghana, China, Australia, Korea and even Europe are making some people in the corridors of power to naturally ask questions and look inward. More of political will is needed, especially the passage of the Bill. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised Traditional Medicine and Complementary Alternative Medicine. So naturally, the situation is giving way now for its further support and development in Nigeria.
What message do you have for practitioners who have potent/efficacious herbal medicine or preparations for terminal diseases?
Any wise man should not release anything to anybody without the paper works well understood by him. The issue of intellectual property is very sensitive and we have had issues in the past, and wouldn’t want history to repeat itself. There must be a guarantee in black and white based on negotiations, and well-documented agreement before anybody will be willing to submit his findings and treatments for any disease. Lawyers should be engaged, along with the Council to provide guidance before anything is released. If it is released without all these in place, there will be no benefit to the revealer, including the credit. Goodwill, justice and equity should guide such engagement.