Just before the end of 2021 the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, warned the entire nation against the danger of patronising hawkers of herbal concoctions.
Adeyeye’s immediate concern was that such concoctions, often passed off to gullible and unsuspecting buyers as authentic and possessing perfect medicinal properties, end up posing a serious threat to individual and public health.
According to the NAFDAC DG, the patronage of herbal drugs, especially in liquid form, could lead to very serious health complication. Such drugs are not only produced without strict adherence to modern storage standards, but also lack evidence that they have passed the agency’s safety and efficacy tests.
Liquid herbal concoctions, she pointed out, begin to grow harmful bacteria after four or five days. At this stage, they become toxic and could cause the death of the user.
The DG also cautioned against the use of sexual performance enhancing drugs, most of which come in herbal form, because of the danger they pose for many unsuspecting users.
Prof Adeyeye has done well to remind Nigerians of the need for caution and self-restraint when it comes to choosing between orthodox and herbal medicines. We believe that by broaching the subject, especially at a time the heath care system in the country has broken down almost irretrievably, her intention is neither to discredit herbal medicine nor to discourage the people from using it, but to draw attention to the danger inherent in the consumption of untested and uncertified herbal drugs.
According to the World Health Organisation, herbal medicine is still a source of primary health care for about 80 per cent of the people living in developing countries. Since Nigeria is one of such countries, it means that in the absence of a properly organised and well-funded health care system that can effectively meet the health needs of the people, the majority of its population have no other choice than to depend on herbal medicine.
Here in Nigeria, as with most other countries of the Third World, herbal medicine comes in different forms: Roots, stems, leaves and tree barks, which are boiled, crushed into powder or soaked in water, alcohol or carbonated soft drinks. They are used for different reasons and, of course, mostly by those who cannot afford any other form of health care.
Just as Adeyeye has hinted, it is no secret that not all herbal drugs currently in the market are approved by NAFDAC and therefore, unlikely to be fit for human consumption. Such drugs are usually passed off as capable of curing more than one ailment at a time, including malaria, stomach ache, rheumatism, arthritis, back and waste pain, cholera, ulcer, skin diseases, fibroid, and even COVID-19. This is where the danger lies.
It is also not uncommon to find sexual performance enhancing drugs sold freely as alcoholic beverages on the streets, around motor parks and in beer parlours. Unfortunately investigation has shown that many men have suffered heart attacks and died or developed complicated ailments while using drugs.
The fact that there is a proliferation of this class of drugs at the moment and that it can possibly be tied to the surge in cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, which have long term and irreparable consequences for the victim and society in general, gives cause for concern. Therefore, it behoves the Federal Government to do everything possible within its power to address this ugly trend.
We also believe that Nigeria’s conventional health care system is still grossly underfunded and inaccessible to many people. Public hospitals are sometimes out of commission for long periods of time, no thanks to endless stand-offs between government and medical personnel demanding better conditions of service. This factor and the ailing economy, which has rendered the cost of health care services far beyond the reach of the average Nigerian, have contributed significantly to the growing demand for herbal medicine.
Although the NAFDAC DG promised that the agency would continue to use a multifaceted approach, including strengthening of pharmaceutical industries, to ensure that the average Nigerian is protected from fake and substandard drugs, we urge the agency to do more, beyond mere rhetoric, to ensure strict regulation of herbal drugs in the country. This is the only way that the safety of lives can be guaranteed.