Traditional Therapy and Orthodox Medicine in the Contemporary World, By Yau Mukhtar
NEWS DIGEST – Traditional medicine is the sum total of all knowledge and practical application used in diagnosis, prevention, treatment and elimination or cure of physiological, physical, or mental diseases which is passed down through generation from one healer to another. This body of knowledge has been in existence and practices since before the arrival of modern medicine and is mostly possessed by primitive people of all ages. Although traditional medicine involves the use of herbal, animal parts and minerals, herbal medicine is the most widely used of all the three sources. This knowledge is still alive and several hundred species are used in herbal remedies in indigenous system of medicines, where the whole plant or plant part or its extraction is used in treatment of illness.
On the other hand, orthodox or conventional medicine involves the use of synthetic drugs and other medical procedures in diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of ailments. Modern medicine has done much in the fields of treating and managing infectious diseases and other life style related disorders. Several vaccines and drugs are now available for the treatment of several diseases such as cholera, dysentery, fever, cough, stomach pain, reproductive ailments, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis etc. just to mention but few. More so, with the advent of orthodox medicine, transplanting of failed or damaged organs such as liver, kidney, heart, lungs is made possible so as to provide stability and proper functioning of the body system of the patient. Therefore, the influence and contribution of western medicine in delivering of well adequate health care system to humanity can never be overemphasized.
Nevertheless, the use of traditional medicine (TM) and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), particularly herbal medicinal practice is increasing nowadays throughout the world. Already, it accounts for a major part of the health care provided worldwide. In low- and middle-income countries, up to 80% of the population may rely on traditional therapy for their primary health care needs. In many high-income countries, herbal therapy utilization is becoming increasingly popular, with up to 65% of the population reporting that they have used this form of medicine. This is mostly connected to the high cost, adverse side effect, ineffectiveness and development of resistance by microorganisms and parasites to these modern synthetic drugs. More so, traditional medicine is advocated and encouraged for a number of reasons. It is an integral part of every culture and tradition developed over many years, healthy and nutritious as it provides the body with nutrients such as proteins and vitamins, socially/generally acceptable, very efficacious/ effective and has little or no side effects.
Nevertheless, this traditional mode of therapy is also being faced with some limitations. Notable among them includes; lack of understanding formulation, dosage, safety, and the mechanisms by which they bring about their effects within the body system. But most importantly, researches are now underway in order to develop standard for herbal medicine practices so as to assist regulatory activities in monitoring, evaluation and control. This will ensure a higher degree of safety and a more rational use of herbal preparations.
Traditional therapies are generally available, affordable and commonly used in low- and middle-income countries. Surveys conducted by the World Health Organization Roll Back Malaria Program in 1998 showed that in Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Zambia, more than 60% of children with high fever are treated at home with herbal medicines. Notable antimalarial herbal species in Nigeria includes Azadirachta indicia (Neem tree), Senna occidentalis (Senna), Carica papaya (Pawpaw), Psidium guajava (Guava), Eucalyptus camaldulensis (Red gum tree), Vernonia amygdalina (Bitter leaf), Mangifera indica (Mango) etc. Another reason why patients turn to traditional medicine for complementary care is the increasing cases of chronic and debilitating diseases for which there is no cure. Scientific studies of several herbal therapies show that their use is effective, e.g. for HIV/AIDS and cancer patients. As a result, Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is advocating collaboration with herbal medicine practitioners in AIDS prevention and care in sub-Saharan Africa.
The ability and power of medicinal plants in treatment and cure of diseases is connected to their possession of some bioactive compounds known as phytochemicals. A number of them such as alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoids, tannins, saponins, carbohydrates, glycosides, anthraquinones, steroids etc. has been isolated from several sources and tested in both laboratory and clinical researches for different biological activities and proved to be effective. Researches are now underway for identification and isolation of the lead active molecule from these compounds with a view to develop promising drugs.
As a result, traditional therapies have the potential to contribute to a better health care system in many countries especially when coopted with conventional system of medicine. That is the reason, why WHO has recently advocated for intense research to identify botanicals with proven medicinal properties with a view to incorporate them with the orthodox medicine for an effective delivery of a well health care system.
Conclusively, there is a need for an increase in research to improve the evidence base as regards the safety, efficacy and mechanism of action of most traditional therapies. Measures needed to facilitate research efforts include the legal recognition of herbal medicines, an increase in funding for research, the development of appropriate research methods for evaluating some traditional therapies, and the development of systems for intellectual property rights protection is also recommended.