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Traditional Medicine Still Facing Hurdles In Cameroon 

By Leocadia Bongben

CameroonPostline.com — Many hurdles seem to stand in the way of improving traditional medicine in Cameroon for it to contribute to development.

Recently, four children perished in Bangangte, West Region, because their mother, in a bid to purify them of bad spirits, took them to a traditional practitioner who administered a toxic concoction that killed the kids instead of healing them. This uncertainty surrounding traditional medicine, infiltration by quacks coupled with the unclean nature of their medicine, lack of proper dosage and conservation measures have watered down the practice.

Notwithstanding, 80 percent of the African population depend on traditional medicine as the main or only source of health care owing to strong historic and cultural origin, according to statistics. And there are still some diseases which are better cured by traditional medicine such as fractures and epilepsy, says ethno-botanist, Prof. Alyos Nkongmeneck. It is against this backdrop that the World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Gomes Sambo, appeals to countries to include traditional medicine research in national health research agenda.

Governments are encouraged to create budget lines to support the implementation of the traditional medicine strategy adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Africa. To encourage traditional medicine research for development, the Cameroon Government started the department of Pharmacy and Traditional Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University of Yaounde 1.

Though training in pharmacy seems to be smooth, the module on traditional medicine has been staggering and has not yet taken off. However, the Plant and Animal Millennium Museum of Prof. Nkongmeneck has been training traditional practitioners on how to identify plants and their virtues and elementary technics in making medication.

Compared to Senegal, Niger, and Chad where collaboration between traditional and conventional medicine has advanced, the collaboration in Cameroon is still at its infancy. It is though one of the 28 countries in Africa with results to authorise marketing of traditional medicine for treatment at the Institute of Research in Medicinal Plants, IMPM.

Joseph Kinga, a technician at IMPM, says the institute helps traditional practitioners to valorise their products, moving it from the artisanal, traditional state to modern pharmaceutical products. “Once the traditional practitioner has a plant or a recipe which they think can treat patients, they come to us and we develop it together with them,” says Kinga. The pharmacology laboratory technician ascertains that the drug is good for patients, tests for toxicity and carries out biological trials to determine the ailment the traditional healer says it cures.

Following this procedure, the Ministry of Health has already authorised two drugs transformed from medicinal plants to ameliorated drugs – ‘Tabercine’ for curing wounds and burns and ‘Casmyc’ for curing ring worms, eczemas and fungi. Casmyc is transformed from a golden plant known locally as ‘ngomtang’ with the scientific name, “Sena Alata”.

The Minister of Public Health, Andre Mama Fouda, August 31, (African Traditional Medicine Day), said there is the possibility of supporting traditional practitioners when their plants reach a good state in transformation process at the IMPM. Mama Fouda stressed: “It is important to appreciate the quality and undesirable effects”. However, when the plants are transformed into ameliorate quality, the problem of mass production persists. Also, the sustainability of the plants remains a cause for concern as some medicinal plants species are becoming scare and disappearing.

Traditional practitioners are encouraged to use agro-forestry technics to plant and domesticate some of the herbs used. The sector is in need of funding and as such the WHO Regional Director has called on governments and donors to part for traditional medicine research and development. A law to regulate the activities of the sector is still awaited as a draft law is pending before the National Assembly.

First published in The Post print edition no 01463

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