News / Africa

Kenya Considers Policy to Regulate Traditional Medicines

NAIROBI - The Kenyan government is in the process of drafting a policy to regulate the use of herbal and other medicines prescribed by traditional healers. Arguments for and against regulation - and the contents of the draft policy - reflect many Kenyans’ love-hate relationship with traditional medicines and healers.
 
The use of plants to treat medical conditions has been an integral part of Kenya’s cultures for millennia, knowledge passed down from generation to generation.
 
Yet the conventional medical profession and many Kenyans have turned their backs on this rich tradition.
 
So says herbalist Dr. Maina Mwea. Initially a government pharmacist, Dr. Mwea turned to herbal medicine 20 years ago, a method he says is effective but has long been demonized.

“If you look back, in 1925 there was an act of Parliament enacted called Cap. 125, which outlawed the practice of traditional medicine and termed it ‘witchcraft.’ Since that time, it has never been reviewed,” said Dr. Mwea.

But that is about to change. The Kenyan government is drafting a policy that will regulate the practice of traditional medicine.
 
Dr. Jennifer Orwa is chief research officer at the Center for Traditional Medicines and Drug Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, or KEMRI.  “The Ministry of Health will try and put in structures of a council who can be able to regulate the practice. Then there are the conservation issues, which is very important. We have a lot of medicines going out of our country, being sold outside, and then being processed and coming back,” she stated.
 
Herbalist Dr. Mwea says that, while it is important to regulate the field of traditional medicine, the proposed stringent toxicological and pharmacological clinical trials that traditional healers are required to conduct are too heavy-handed.
 
“First, the herbalists do not have that type of financial muscle to do it - it takes billions of shillings to run a project into the market. Two, a lot of them also do not have even the knowledge to do that. Three, the government itself, which is proposing these things, they do not even have the facilities,” said Dr. Mwea.
 
He argues that the successful use of certain plants for thousands of years to treat specific conditions is proof enough of safety.
 
KEMRI’s Dr. Orwa says the draft policy acknowledges that a traditional drug’s successful long-term use can be evidence of efficacy, as outlined by the World Health Organization.
 
In her words, the testing requirements are “a little bit mild” and generally do not require nearly a decade of test trials, as is the case with conventional drugs.
 
Dr. Orwa says she thinks it is no longer true that Kenya’s conventional health-care system rejects the value and richness of traditional medicines.  “So now we have a whole center in KEMRI, which is doing research on traditional medicine and open to talk to traditional healers, and we find a lot of clinicians now appreciating," she noted. "In fact, in a few cases, you find the doctors when they cannot handle, they said, try a healer.”
 
And that is what has been happening in Dr. Maina Mwea’s clinic. Most of his patients have tried conventional drugs with no success. He says he has a strong client base despite what he says is an underlying bias against traditional medicines.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs