Mar 19, 2015
Indigenous Medicine and Health Systems in Ghana
Indigenous Medicine and Health Systems
In all countries of the world there exists traditional knowledge related to the health of humans and animals. Health care systems are designed to meet the health care needs of target populations. There are a wide variety of health care systems around the world. In Ghana, traditional healers and remedies made from plants play an important role in the health of millions of people. The relative ratios of traditional practitioners and orthodox medical practitioners in relation to the whole population in Ghana are revealing. In Ghana, for example, in Kwahu district, for every traditional practitioner there are 224 people, against one orthodox medical practitioner for nearly 21,000 people.
Herbal medicines remain integral part of indigenous health care system in Ghana. Most conventional health medicines are directly or indirectly derived from plants or herbs. Despite its significant role in modern medicine indigenous herbal practices has been giving much attention for some time due to perceived antagonistic relationship that exists between practitioners of herbal medicine and their counterpart in the conventional system.
Discourses on the future of traditional medicine in Africa and other indigenous societies often assume government recognition and integration into the formal health care systems. There is very little attempt, however, to understand the contexts in which the knowledge and practice of traditional medicine are currently reproduced, let alone the social, economic and cultural factors that determine consumer choices. One of the difficulties bedeviling any attempt at integrating traditional medicine into primary health care has been the secrecy with which each herbalist guards his own preparations for any particular ailment.
Ghana has set up a unit within the Ministry of Health that acts as a quasi-regulatory authority for the practice of herbal medicine. But this unit is yet to be given appropriate legal backing to enforce its regulatory and safety measures. But this unit is yet to be given appropriate legal backing to enforce its regulatory and safety measures.
Indeed there is a growing desire by the Western world to harness the pharmaceutical potential of earth’s bounty, particularly in the rainforests of Asia, South America and Africa. For example, several tons of Voacanga africana, a plant that serves as a raw material source for anticancer drugs, are exported yearly to the USA for pharmaceutical industries there. For example, the U. S. National Cancer Institute and the Missouri Botanical Gardens, along with a number of African countries, have jointly established plant collection and screening programs. The first was set up in Madagascar, followed by programs in Cameroon and Tanzania. The latest is the one instituted about five years ago with the Botany and Chemistry Departments of the University of Ghana.
In the absence of adequate patent laws, the agreement for this particular project provides for:
(i) capacity-building and strengthening in the research programs of the University through staff exchange, material and equipment support;
(ii) royalty sharing if any material is commercialized.
Through this project, the Missouri Botanical Gardens in collaboration with the Botany Department of the University of Ghana has collected a large number of plants from Ghana for screening by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for potential anti-cancer and anti-AIDS drugs. There has been some staff exchange, and pure compounds isolated by the Chemistry Department have been tested using the facilities of the NCI. The three institutions are in constant discussion to improve the workings of the project within the framework of the original agreement. So far the only major area that has raised some concern is the capacity-building and institutional-strengthening aspect of the project with regard to the University of Ghana; this is currently under discussion.
Deforestation is, however, threatening yet another sector linked to the well-being of people in Ghana : Pharmacopeia. The majority of Ghanaian have always opted for herbal treatment over Western medicine. At the Center for Scientific Research in Plant Medicine, doctors say they can control diabetes and other illnesses by dosing patients with herbal extracts. More than 250 indigenous trees and plants with healing properties have been scientifically catalogued. But as Dr Oku Ampofo said," Time may be running out." He worries that the trees will be lost to deforestation before they can be catalogued.
The Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM) was established in 1975 by the Government of Ghana in recognition of the pioneering work of Dr. Oku Ampofo, a Ghanaian allopathic medical practitioner. Today, CSRPM has become a leading research institution in Africa that has made Research and Development of herbal medicines its core business. The objective of the Centre is to make significant contribution to healthcare through quality research in order to realize our vision “ to make herbal medicine a natural choice for all.”