Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) has advocated the integration of African traditional and indigenous medicine and the training of their practitioners towards achieving wholesome alternative within the health care system in Africa.
Governor Fashola, who delivered a keynote address at the Africa Regional Forum of the International Bar Association Annual Conference in Boston, United States, said integration and training, rather than regulation, would be more appropriate in conceptualizing the knowledge that the practitioners already have with the knowledge that modern sciences provide.
Speaking on the topic, “Off to the Witchdoctor – Regulating Africa Traditional and Indigenous Medicine”, at the African Regional Forum’s Healthcare and Life Sciences and Law Committee Session of the Conference, Governor Fashola said the practitioners should be introduced to the various modern best practices in medicine in such a way that they become integrated to offer an alternative rather than merely complementary role.
“They should be introduced to imaging, helped to quantify dosage and be incorporated as an integral part of the healthcare programme by bringing them to the public arena rather than ostracizing them, in such a way that they become integrated and alternative instead of merely complementary”, the Governor said.
Governor Fashola noted that across Africa, traditional and indigenous medical practice still has a “sizeable followership” which is rooted “in belief, its success with those who patronize it and more importantly, its economic appeal”. He however contested the correctness of describing the subject as “African Traditional and Indigenous Medicine” because it is not unique to Africa”.
“Every continent that I know of, has a large store of herbs bestowed on it by nature, and the knowledge of them and their healing or curative powers has been passed down from generation to generation, and forms the basis of modern pharmacology and pharmaceutical practice”, he said.
Tracing the subject to its roots, Governor Fashola pointed out that blood-letting was the medical cure-all at the early years of medical practice, adding, “any ailment was attributed to ‘Bad blood’ and the cure was any incision that would let out the blood and give relief to the patient”.
“If you think the practitioners of the time were not “gods” on earth, you will be underestimating the powers they possessed over those they gave relief to from pain. The same or similar levels of beliefs in healing by draining or removing bad blood had prevailed in Africa”, he said.
He, however, expressed sadness that while many parts of the world, especially Europe and America have moved on from the first crude surgeries to the discovery of penicillin and other anti-biotics, to imaging and stem cells, African contributions in terms of originality have remained largely in the natural state.
“The refreshing thing about this though, is the widespread appeal that a return to nature is gaining, whether by way of quest for organic food or for herbal medicine. This development represents perhaps the most encouraging signs for regulating African traditional and indigenous medicine”, he noted.
The Governor, however, argued that it would be difficult “to regulate a practitioner whose knowledge of the human anatomy comes either from those accounts handed down generation after generation, or from that and pure instinct that helps him measure a baby’s head for delivery or re-set fractured bones without seeing inside either through a CT scan or an X-ray”.
Quoting from the result of a recent study conducted in Lagos State to find out the disposition of the community to embracing health insurance on a wider scale, Governor Fashola said out of the 2,071 respondents to the questions first action taken when ill only 14 percent said they saw a pharmacist to prescribe medicine while 10 percent used traditional healers/herbs, 42 percent clinics/hospitals and 30 percent chemists/drug stores (self-medication).
According to him, of the number that answered the question “Reasons for using trado-medical practitioners”, 20 percent said they trusted them while 18 percent believed they had correct diagnosis, 16 percent said they were affordable while 9 percent believed they are experienced and 2 percent went to them because they are the closest at the time of illness.
As for preference for traditional birth attendants while giving birth, the Governor said his administration was compelled to embrace and train Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) “because the number of pregnant women who believe in their abilities over the orthodox doctors, demonstrates to us that we ignore the traditional birth attendants at the peril of being successful with our war against infant and maternal mortality”.
Citing example of the State Government’s initiative in embracing and training Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) as an integral part of the campaign to reduce maternal and infant mortality, Governor Fashola declared, “Our initiative with the TBAs is consistent with best practices that I have seen in places like Vancouver in Canada, where herbal medicine; especially the pharmacological part, is as publicly controlled as the orthodox pharmacology”, he said.
“While the idea of regulation is appealing, it seems that this may not be the solution. Regulation to me appears to be focused on standards, measurements and other precise requirements that traditional medicine practitioners must conform to”.
Speaking on the concept of the “Witchdoctor”, Governor Fashola declared, “As for Diviners, the real witchdoctors; I might need to cast a spell on all of them before any form of integration or regulation is possible. Without being generalist, they appear to be a force for less, rather than more good. The patients too often end up as victims because their practice has little, if any, practicality”, adding, “It is more of faith rather than the science of herbs”.
“The panacea to this is better education about the empirical sources of riches, power and success. That they lie in hard work, preparation and planning, self-belief and competition, rather than in prayer and supplication”, the Governor said citing practical examples from various sectors to buttress his assertion.
The Forum Session which also had presentations from various experts and intellectuals was followed by a robust interaction on the theme.
Earlier, in his remarks at the Nigerian Lawyers Reception, Governor Fashola called for a more positive presentation of the Nigerian story to the outside world saying, in spite of some of the negative happening in the country, there are good things happening in the country that need to be highlighted.
Noting that the Conference venue may have been chosen apparently as a place safer and far away from home, the Governor told his audience, “But this was a place where three people died and a hundred others were injured very critically a few weeks back. And the same time that it was happening, the Lagos Police, acting on intelligence, prevented a similar event from happening”.
“And I had a debate, which was a better Police Force, the one that arrived after the event had happened or the one that prevented the event from happening?” he asked, adding, “There are so many good things happening back home, whether you agree or disagree but we seem to dwell on the negative. There is negative everywhere”.
The Governor also canvassed for the hosting of the International Bar Association (IBA) Conference in Nigeria pointing out that if the Association must be an international Association of Lawyers, it could only be seen as such when the Conference is moved around the globe like in tournaments and championships.
Pointing out that in spite of the numerical strength of Nigerian lawyers in the IBA and the fact of their frequent participation in the conference, their voice is not strong enough, the Governor declared, “If you look at global associations they are moving tournaments and championships across the world to make it truly representative of the Planet and I think that we must put our strong number into contention here in order to make our voices heard.”
“I think year in year out, we have built what is at best a critical tour de force in terms of our membership, in terms of our participation and yet we have not had the privilege to host this conference and I think the time has come to do something very serious about that”, he said.
He expressed the need for the NBA to be “a little more strategic about its performance in the IBA adding, “Those of our members who are privileged to serve in the various committees of the IBA must take this message very strongly and I will be having a quiet word in the ears of the President about the options open to us and that in terms of facilities, in terms of all of the necessary prerequisites for hosting the Conference in Nigeria we are ready and able to do so”.
The Governor said Lagos is both ready to take the lead in hosting the very next IBA Conference and to support any other State in the country that bids to host adding, “The truth is that if it must be an International Association of Lawyers, it must be so in words and indeed”.
“I think we have not spoken loudly enough and those who know the inner workings of the mechanism for hosting should confer with the President and his executives and let us know what really it takes to put forward a strong bid to host the next time”, he said.
Noting that Nigerians are not telling enough of their story, Governor Fashola declared, “In a meeting that I had this afternoon with some of my colleagues we decided that formally and informally we are going to start having a week of good news and a month of good news and hopefully we will have a year of good news and many more years of good news”.
Governor Fashola was also presented the Africa Regional Forum Special Award in recognition of his immeasurable support of and enduring commitment to the Forum by the Chairman, Legal Practice Division of IBA, Mr. Michael Greene, during the Forum’s lunch at the Sheraton Boston, United States.