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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs