The key objective of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, GOODHEALTH AND WELLBEING, is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Among the key target areas include support for research and development of medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines; and achieve universal health coverage including access to quality essential health-care services as well access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines.
It is irrefutable therefore in the light of the above that herbal medicine has a role to play in achieving the key targets and ultimately the goal.
Long before the advent of allopathic medicine, various ethnic groups in Ghana used herbs for the treatment of various ailments and many continue to rely on it for their health care alongside modern or conventional medicine.
The World Health Organization defines herbal medicine as a plant-derived material or preparation with therapeutic or other human health benefits which contains either raw or processed ingredients from one or more plants. In some traditions material or animal origin may also be present.
It is estimated that 80% of the developing worldand between 70% and 75% of Ghanaians use herbal medicine for their primary healthcare.
Great strides have been made at the global, international, and national policy levels towards the promotion of safe and rational use of herbal medicine. A giant leap in this direction is the famous Alma-Ata declaration of September, 1978, which among other things recommended introduction of safe traditional medicine in drug policies and regulatory measures among WHO member states.
In Ghana, major initiatives have been undertaken by successive governments to transform the herbal medicine industry through investment in research institutions, training of herbal medicine professionals, establishment of regulatory agencies to strengthen monitoring, as well as the establishment of a policy formulating body.
Such steps have contributed to saving the herbal medicine industry from crude, unsafe and dangerous practices by quacks in the industry which sometimes results in fatalities.
One of such institutions promoting safe and proper use of herbal medicine among Ghanaians include the now Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR) which among other functions is mandated to establish guidelines for research into plant medicine and develop herbal medicines respectively. It is also to liaise with traditional medical practitioners in the area of technology transfer as well as best practices in herbal medicine, assess efficacy and safety of herbal medicine products in Ghana.
The need to build human capacity is not only core to achieving safe and rational use of herbal based medicaments but also central to the development of quality herbal products.
In this regard, the School of Pharmacy of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is training medical herbalists who prescribe herbal medicines in the some government health facilities as well as private healthcare facilities.
The first batch was interviewed in the year 2009 and recruited by government in 2011. In addition, pilot herbal units have been instituted since 2011and as of 2016; nineteen (19) units had been established across the ten regions of the country.
The chain could not have been complete without a policy formulating body to develop a policy framework that would provide focus and guide the industry, and also as a sign of governments’ determination to transform same.
Hence, the establishment of the now Traditional and Alternative Medicine Directorate (TAMD) in 1991 under the Ministry of Health, to provide a general policy direction or framework within which government’s short to long term plans on Traditional Medicine would be based.
The Directorate provides policy directions for twelvebroad areas including; the practice of herbal medicine and regulatory legislation; professionalization of traditional medicine through formal training; research and product development; standardization, quality assurance and large scale production; biodiversity conservation and sustainable harvesting; integration of traditional medicine into national health systems and commercialization, of herbal products. Readers may refer to “POLICY GUIDELINES ON TRADITIONAL MEDICINE DEVELOPMENT, MINISTRY OF HEALTH, 2005 document or contact the writer for a copy a full and detailed rubrics on traditional medicine.
Moreover, the role of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) in ensuring that all medicines including herbals meet acceptable standards before licensing further assures the public of safety with regards to registered products.
Lastly, the Traditional Medicine Practitioners Council (TMPC) has been established since 2000 with the mandate to regulate the practice of traditional medicine, register and license practitioners among others. Readers may refer to the “TRADITIONAL MEDICINE ACT, 2000 ACT 575. The council’s work involves setting standards for the practice of traditional medicine, issuing certificate of registration to qualified practitioners as well as premises for practice and determining the code of ethics for traditional medicine practice in conjunction with an association of traditional medicine practitioners recognized by the Minister responsible for Health.
To this end, Ghana has come a long way in ensuring the safety of Ghanaians in the use of herbal medications. It is also evident in view of the various interventions, commitments and investments especially in the area of research that Ghanaians can be assured of good quality and efficacious herbal products for the treatment of diseases.