In Ghana, health authorities say they have taken a major step towards finding treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases by using local, traditional medicines. An estimated 4,000 of the country's 20 million people are infected with the disease. Efam Dovi filed this VOA report from the capital, Accra.
The West African nation this year began an ambitious plan to include selected traditional herbal medicine - used widely in Ghana - on the country's recommended drug list.
This move will help the country cut back on drug importation, making health care more accessible.
Ghana's health minister, Major Courage Quashigah, told a gathering at the launch of the WHO African Regional Health Report in Accra Thursday that the medical practices of 10 traditional healers are currently undergoing testing at the country's Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.
The minister said a scientific study is necessary to secure the World Health Organization's approval for production and use of the medicines.
The program is being overseen by traditional health practitioners, WHO, Ghana's Food and Drug Board, Center for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine and Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.
Martha Gyansa-Lutterodt, who heads Ghana's National Drugs Program, said, "We are trying to find out what they [traditional practitioners] have, how long the medicine had been in use, the adverse reaction that has occur, which they know, we trying to find out the labeling, we trying to find out the part of the plant they are using, we are trying to find out safety procedures, manufacturing records, we want to find out the stability of the product."
Research indicates at least six out of 10 Ghanaians use traditional health medicine, either because they are readily available, cheaper, or simply believe the products work.
Gyansa-Lutterodt says the program is also being expanded to cover other diseases besides HIV/AIDs.
She said, "We are looking for priority diseases like malaria, which is our number one killer, tuberculosis, diabetics and those other diseases of public health importance."
"So we are looking at communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases," she continued.
The WHO representative in Ghana, Joaquim Saweka, who gave an overview of the African Regional Health report said the number of HIV/AIDS infected people on anti-retroviral drugs have increased from 100,000 in 2003 to 810,000 in 2005.
The report talked about the progress made in fighting diseases and promoting health care in Africa.