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Ghanaians Weigh Costs of Traditional Medicine

  • Joana Mantey

Herbs used for malaria and typhoid

Herbs used for malaria and typhoid

Some call for better testing and packaging

One advantage of using traditional medicine is the cost. Most herbal preparations are cheaper than western drugs and are available throughout the country.

For the government, it means scarce foreign currency is not spent on importing medication.

But 22-year-old Daniel Ajei has a different reason for using herbal medicine. His parents treated his childhood illnesses with traditional remedies and now it’s a habit.

Herbs used for treating malaria and typhoid

Herbs used for treating malaria and typhoid

“My grandfather was a herbalist and taught me how to prepare some of the herbal medicines. Now I can use herbs to cure some sicknesses, “he says.

Nasiru Braimah occasionally uses herbal medicine but said he would like to see improvements.

He said most practitioners lack basic education and are often ignorant about the active ingredients in the herbal preparations they use.

“Some people may [develop] allergies to some of those herbs. There should be more research on these herbs so that they can make provisions for such allergies,” he explains.

Ebenezer Baddoo has problems with the liquid form of many herbal treatments.

“It is difficult to carry it to the office and use it consistently as expected. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether it is working or not. Sometimes [its positive effect] is psychological,” he says.

Michaelle Hammond and Kweku Obeng Turkson are concerned about the safety of marketed herbs and the absence of clear instructions for their use.

“My problem with herbal medicine is that the packaging is not really good. It is not attractive -- you go to the market you will see some herbal medicines in paper wraps, some are dirty and spread out on the floor. It is really not appealing ,”says Hammond.

On the other hand Turkson says, “My problem with herbal medicine is the number of cures it claims for each concoction. Every one claims it cures every ailment you have. Also, how will you be able to know the right dosage to take? They don’t really specify. Just one small cup per day or night.”

Turkson said patients may not understand the size of the cup needed to take the medicines, some of which come in a very concentrated form and require only small amounts.

Traditional healers do not document their cures, making it hard to track a patient’s course of treatment.

Knowledge of herbal medicine is a closely guarded secret among family members. Often it is shrouded in mystery and may be accompanied by the performance of certain rituals.

Nine years ago Ghana’s parliament passed a law calling for the creation of a regulatory body, the Traditional Medical Practice Council. It is not yet fully operational.

The council is expected to improve the use of traditional medicine in part by registering and licensing practitioners. It will also develop manuals on standard operating procedures and certify traditional practice.