By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu
A recent studyreported on myjoyonline got many people talking about herbal medicine usage by educated Ghanaians. This study proved that the negative perception of herbal medicine is notinfluencing its usage. It rather appears that educated people in Ghana have rather found solace in herbal medicine. This was evident in the jointstudyby the University of Saarland, Germany, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. The researchers found that the more educated a person is, the more likely he/she will take herbal medicine (https://www.myjoyonline.com/educated-persons-more-likely-to-take-herbal-medicine-research-reveals/).
The scientists in the study sought to find out personal preferences and applications of antimalarial medicines in Ghana.For the study over 1,000 questionnaires were distributed in Ghana from January to May 2019.
The findings published in the Journal Sci found around two-thirds of respondents rely on herbal medications.They again found the more educated a person is, the more likely he is likely to take herbal medications. Among the respondents, only 31 % preferred Orthodox medications.Interestingly, 36.8 % preferred locally-produced herbal remedies and 32.2 on a combination of both.“Even the educated, those at the tertiary level patronized herbal medications.
“The higher the education, the higher the chances of choosing herbs. They didn’t care about the side effects or the cost,” Prof. Anto Berko of the Department of Pharmacy Practice said.
One of the collaborators, Prof. Jacob Claus from the University of Saarland who was surprised at the findings, was worried about the likelihood of contamination and uncertainty of the active ingredients among others.He would have wished the citizenry relied on scientifically-tested medications.“It was a little bit surprising that many people would go for herbal medications,” he noted.
The scientists again found virtually all respondents were influenced by advertisements through channels like TV, radio, and even billboards on the streets (99.9%). This was followed by friend’s recommendations, pharmacy prescriptions, and drug peddlers.
“The level of advertisement is huge. In a day, you can have a lot of adverts. No matter your beliefs, if you’re being bombarded with a product, you’re likely to go for that product,” Prof. Berko said.
Lead Scientist, Prince Yeboah of the University of Saarland believes it is about time, attention is placed on refining herbal products to ensure safety from their suspected disadvantages.“This may provide a reﬁnement of the most active mixtures,” he said.Professor Claus also encouraged more technological investments into the production of herbal medications.“The herbal medicine will play a major role as long as we invest a lot of technology into them by producing them in a cleaner and reliable way,” he said.
Honestly, I wasn’tsurprised to read this study. This also means that the herbal industry is a huge source of revenue generation for the media houses in Ghana. The use of herbal medicine has been on increase in many developing and industrialized countries.
For instance, one study by Laelago et al.(2016) sought to assess the prevalence of herbal medicine use and associated factors among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics of public health facilities and found that (73.1 %) of pregnant women used an herbal medicine during the current pregnancy. The herbal medicines commonly taken during current pregnancy were ginger (55.8 %), garlic (69.8 %), eucalyptus (11.6 %), tenaadam (rutachalenssis) (26.4 %), damakesse (ocimumlamiifolium) (22.8 %), feto (3.5 %) and omore (3.1 %).
A similar study by Rashrash et al.(2017) examines the prevalence of herbal medicine use among US adults and assesses factors associated with and predictors of herbal use also found that herbal supplementsare used by the aged, having a higher than high school education, using prescription medications or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and using a mail-order pharmacy. The most frequent conditions associated with herbal supplement use were stroke (48.7%), cancer (43.1%), and arthritis (43.0%).
Another studyby Welz et al.(2018) in Germany found that treating illnesses were the most frequently discussed aim for using herbal medicine in all age groups.A previous study by Oreagba et al.(2011) in urban Nigerian forks also found Herbal medicines were reportedly used by 66.8% of respondents. Family and friends had a marked influence on 78.4% of the respondents who used herbal medicine preparations. Herbal medicines were considered safe by half of the respondents despite 20.8% of those who experienced mild to moderate adverse effects.
This huge confidence in herbal medicine and alternative remedies made some researchersbelieve that it has affected COVID 19 vaccine misinformation(Kempe et al. 2022). This means we are in an era where one cannot underestimate the herbal medicine practitioners’ influence in the healthcare sector. Hence, I wasn’t surprised when Dr. Omane Boamah in his recent post on Facebook started to advocate for the promotion of herbal medicine and how Ghana could use them to its advantage to increase our revenue. Also, a recent editorial in the Daily Graphic advises the government to invest in herbal medicine research in Ghana. This should tell you something good is in this sector.
A more recent study aimed to update knowledge of the prevalence of TM use and the characteristics of those who access it, to inform health policy-makers as countries seek to fulfill the WHO TM strategy 2014–23 and harness TM for population health.TM users were compared with users of modern healthcare. Oyebode et al.(2016) found fewer people use herbal medicines.
A previous national study on why people are using these remedies by Astin(1998) found being more educated and reporting poorer health status, the majority of alternative medicine users appear to be doing so not so much as a result of being dissatisfied with conventional medicine but largely because they find these health care alternatives to be more congruent with their values, beliefs, and philosophical orientations toward health and life.
Jmaes et al. (2018) also assess factors associated with TCAM use in South Saharan Africa and found reasons similar to those observed in other regions.
A Pew Research Center study(2017) also found that about half of the general public in the US reports that they have tried alternative medicine either instead of (20%) or in conjunction with (29%) of conventional medical treatments. Half of U.S. adults say they have never used alternative medicine.
Older adults, ages 65 and older, are a bit less likely than younger age groups to have used alternative medicine instead of conventional treatment (10% have done so compared with 22% each of those ages 18-49 and 50-64).
There are no significant differences by gender or education in having tried alternative medicine instead of conventional health care.For instance, Harris et al.(2012) study has this to say: “women and more highly educated adults are more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine. There are wide differences in definitions and question-wording in surveys about alternative medicine, however, that could account for such differences.”
The National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people with chronic conditions use more complementary and alternative medical treatments(Faci et al. 2016).
The Pew Research Center survey also finds people who report having a chronic medical condition are more likely to have used alternative medicine in addition to traditional medicine (33% have done so compared with 24% of those who do not have a chronic condition or disease).
In conclusion, the studies are clear! Highly educated people are using herbal or alternative medicines. It is time for the government to look at the potential in this field. It is time for the universities to offer courses in this area to improve our healthcare delivery. It is time for our medical schools to include herbal and alternative medicines into their curriculum to introduce Medical students to them. The system is not waiting for anyone’s ignorance. Herbal or alternative remedies have come to stay and their now part of us and nothing can be done to stop them or pollute the highly educated people’s minds. I also call on the government to pass the Traditional and Alternative Medicinebill.
The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare and President of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation .E-mail: [email protected].