Nigerians Opt for Traditional Healers Amid Rising Drug Prices

by Ohepo Ohepo

Ohepo Ohepo discusses the increasing use of traditional medicine in light of the nation’s soaring orthodox drug prices and the enormous research potential in alternative medicine.

In the Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State, in the bustling Sango Ota market, Mrs. Ayoni Oladipo politely displayed her selection of herbal products. On the wooden table in front of her store, there were variously shaped plastic bottles labeled with the illnesses they were meant to treat.

Clients from nearby villages and cities came to the Osogbo native’s shop once a week. She acknowledged that her mother had taught her about herbal remedies.

When The Bureau Newspaper visited her business on Tuesday morning, the 41-year-old lady was in a good mood and asked for herbal concoctions to treat malaria and diarrhea.

“I have a large clientele that comes from outside of Ogun State. People travel from Abuja, Ibadan, and Lagos to see me. Oladipo grinned sincere and happily, “They come to me for a variety of ailments and ask for herbs to treat diarrhoea, backaches, and general body weakness.”

Oladipo provided examples to highlight the strength of her herbal medicines when our correspondent had some doubts regarding the effectiveness of herbal products.

“They called me to help a white man around here who we call ‘Baba Mighty,'” she said. He was struck by a stroke, but he still works for a nearby company.

The fact that his coworkers were staring at him like a pack of wolves after he collapsed at work exacerbated his condition. This man is better now that I gave him some herbal care.

“Unfortunately, because they believed herbal medicine would be just as expensive as conventional medicine, his people didn’t give me all of my money; they kept part of it.”

“There was a lady whose menses stopped and her husband came and confided in me when he saw some people buying some herbs from me,” the correspondent added, clearly not sure if she was persuaded. The pair had visited the Federal Medical Center, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and another hospital, but nothing had changed.

I thus handed him a half-bottle of herbs for his wife that I got from the store. He came back to thank me when his wife began to have menstrual periods again. Later on, the woman became pregnant and gave birth to twins. I also sell herbal remedies for impotence and weak erections.

I usually give the man a mixture of atori odo (Tiliaceae) and alligator pepper and tell him to take it. It will reawaken his erection, barring a spiritual attack, which is beyond my scope of treatment.

According to information obtained by The Bureau Newspaper, Oladipo charged N3,000 to N5,000 for her herbs, a development she attributed to economic inflation.

Since most things these days are pricey, my herbs range in price from N3,000 to N5,000. She gestured to some bottles in a corner of her store and remarked, “Those herbs in bigger plastic bottles are N5,000.”

“They work so well that you can’t even get through all of their content before the illness becomes better. People are now more likely to visit me because they have realized that herbal medication is less expensive than Western medicine.

“Herbs also have the benefit of not expiring. When roots are substituted for tree bark during preparation, it may not work for certain persons. There’s no chance such a plant will work, so when people are told to utilize local eggs, they use layers’ eggs instead, the speaker continued.

Like Oladipo, another herb vendor in Ofada, in Ogun State’s Obafemi Owode Local Government Area, Mrs. Kemisola Banwo stated that traditional medicine had improved in reputation recently, despite the negative connotations it once held among the general public.

“Those days are long gone when people disparaged our trade as they formerly did. Our clientele is now educated thanks to us.

“This is no jest; anyone selling herbs can attest to the fact that individuals from all walks of life come to us in times of need of healing.

“Our industry is now recognized by the government, and our efforts are acknowledged.” We are not fetishists or sorcerers; our goal is to heal people. Just as the White people did, we use the plants and roots that God has given us to heal ailments. People are aware of this today, claimed Banwo.

comfort from rising prices

The Bureau Newspaper discovered that as the cost of contemporary medications—some of which are imported—rises, more Nigerians are resorting to herbal remedies and complementary therapies.

Known to the Yoruba people as “elewe omo,” traditional healers are well-known for offering plant-based herbal remedies to patients in order to treat a variety of ailments that can affect newborns, kids, and adults.

The International Drug Centre reports that drug prices will likely stay high in 2024 because the depreciation of the naira could result in pharmaceutical import prices reaching above N900 billion.

Nigerians who struggled with high medicine prices in 2023 are expected to be even more affected by this, as the majority of the nation’s pharmaceutical imports come from China, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc, a pharmaceutical company, announced in August 2023 that it would be discontinuing its activities in the nation and switching to a third-party direct distribution model for its pharmaceutical products.

A French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, also stated its intentions to leave the country and switch to a third-party distribution arrangement three months after GSK made the decision. It said that starting in February 2024, its third-party distributor will manage its commercial portfolio of medications.

Since then, the cost of medications has increased by more than 100%, according to SBM Intelligence. This increase has coincided with Nigeria’s sharp inflation and foreign exchange crises, which have put pressure on consumers and businesses alike, including the pharmaceutical sector.

As a result, more people are turning to traditional herbs for relief from their ailments since they believe they are more affordable and readily available than conventional treatment.

In a conversation with our correspondent, Ibadan-based chef Taiwo Divine revealed that he now exclusively uses herbal remedies to take care of his family’s medical needs.

“I always remind people that conventional drugs also don’t always work when they claim that herbs don’t work. I used to have malaria and took an anti-malaria tablet, but I didn’t get better until I took a herb that a family friend had made for me to treat fever, and it helped.

“It used to be N1,400 a few years ago, but now you would pay roughly N3,000 to treat malaria. I would rather take traditional medicine than squander money on Western medicine that might not even work for me because this is not sustainable at all, said Divine.

In agreement, Treasure Etteh, a marketing for a company in Lagos, stated that he had come to appreciate herbs due to the rising expense of contemporary treatment.

“I now take herbs whenever I feel symptoms of illness,” the man wrote. I dislike getting shots, and it’s not cheap given the current state of the pharma market. How much is my wage that I would have to spend on prescription drugs?

“I buy from a reliable local herb seller since, although I wasn’t used to taking it at first, I’m becoming used to it. To make some of the herbs more pleasant for me, the seller frequently blends them with soft beverages.

An undiscovered market

Experts have claimed that despite Nigeria’s reputation for possessing a wide variety of natural herbs and plants, the nation has not yet fully realized the potential of its traditional and complementary medicine, which is predicted to be a profitable industry worth billions of dollars.

According to a survey published by Future Market Insight, the United States, Germany, Thailand, China, and India are the top five countries in the world market for traditional medicine.

According to the FMI analysis, the market is expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate of 7.7%, reaching $199.07 billion in 2023 and $417.99 billion by 2033.

It further stated that by 2031, traditional medicine in South Asia would rank third in terms of profitability, with over 74% of the market coming from India.

Approximately 60% of people worldwide utilize herbal medicine for primary healthcare, while 80% of Africans turn to traditional remedies to meet their basic medical needs, according to the World Health Organization.

However, the international organization pointed out that there is still untapped potential for traditional medicine’s research, local manufacture, and commercialization—particularly in poor nations like Nigeria.

According to a 2019 study done in Lagos and published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, many Nigerians frequently combined traditional medicine with herbal remedies until recently, with the majority expressing a preference for the latter.

Our correspondent was informed by Emmanuel Ibekwe, a merchant in Lagos State’s Lagos Island area, that his clientele has grown over the past few months as a result of the nation’s economic situation. Ibekwe specializes in selling Chinese herbal combinations.

Even if these goods cost more than local herbs, more people are requesting them. However, I believe that our government should make the same investments in local herbal medicine that the Chinese have.

“They are selling their goods here in Nigeria and exporting them abroad.” There’s a woman near here who sells herbs; she gets patronage too, but the packaging is different.

“The Chinese ones have a certain attraction that the local ones don’t, and they are more geared toward the educated population. Ibekwe continued, “I believe that our leaders ought to be considering how they may participate in this successful endeavor as well.

The economic and physiological benefits of herbal medicine were also mentioned by blogger Editi Peter, who identified her mother as a herbalist.

“My mother uses 100% herbal ingredients that I am not allowed to reveal completely,” the woman stated. My mother prepares her herbs with water-based seeds. She treats a variety of illnesses and infections using her herbal remedies.

Many illnesses, including gonorrhea, hepatitis, diabetes, herpes simplex virus, and human papillomavirus, are incurable with Western medicine. Since the 1990s, my mother has been utilizing herbs to save lives.

“The nation needs to make good use of this field in order to achieve wellness and supplement Western medicine.”

Dr. Olusina Ajidahun, the CEO of Lifebox Labs and a medical professional, stated in an interview with The Bureau Newspaper that many patients cannot afford conventional medications due to the nation’s poverty and prescription prices.

“Some medicines that used to cost N5,000 or N8,000 have gone up to N40,000,” the speaker said. The cost of necessary medical goods has also increased, including antibiotics and inhalers for asthma sufferers.

“It’s so bad that when patients come to the hospital, a lot of them can’t afford these drugs because there is huge poverty in the land, so many people turn to unorthodox medicine.

“Unorthodox medications are widely available, extremely inexpensive, and cost-effective, but sadly, people don’t visit the hospital to complete their treatment. We cannot avoid the fact that more and more people are starting to appreciate herbs.

“The crucial query is this: are all herbs harmful? No, is the response to that. Herbs may be useful for therapy and the treatment of illnesses since many medications are derived from plants, even though some are synthesized in labs.

On the other hand, he advocated standardization.

“We ought to consider the actions of other nations, such as China, India, and Japan. Protocols that specify the active components, dosage, and adverse effects of these herbs are required. People should be informed about the appropriate times to use these herbs as well as how they interact with other medications, which can render them ineffective or fatal.

Additionally, we require standardization. It isn’t enough to have someone say, “I just mix root, leaves, and bark into a drink and it will work,” since their grandfather was a well-known herbalist and he passed this knowledge down to them.

“No, because what we’re going to have with herbs is that you’re taking an elixir or poison, and it can kill you because you don’t know if you’re taking too much or too little of it,” he continued.

FG, interested parties praise complementary therapy

Eighty percent of Nigerians utilize traditional medicine as their major source of healthcare, according to information revealed by Dr. Tunji Alausa, Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, at the celebration of the 2023 African Traditional Medicine Day in Abuja.

Alausa added that traditional medicine was widely available, culturally acceptable, and trusted by the general public. She was accompanied by Hassan Salau, Director of Human Resources Management at the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

With traditional medicine being the primary source of healthcare for around 80% of the rural population, traditional medicine has significantly improved everyone’s health and well-being.

“Studies have shown that traditional medicine use in Nigeria is as high as 81.6 per cent, and this is not expected to be on the decline shortly, especially in the face of the predicted increase in the global burden of diseases,” he said.

To fulfill health-related Sustainable Development Goals and advance health and well-being for all people of all ages, member states must step up their efforts to apply evidence-based traditional medicine techniques, according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the Regional Director of WHO for Africa.

“To ensure their full participation and consultation in the adoption and implementation of pertinent policies and actions associated with biodiversity management and traditional knowledge, establish a high-level consultative mechanism with indigenous knowledge holders.”

Additionally, she said, “facilitate effective integration of traditional medicine into national health systems contributing to the achievement of all health-related sustainable development goals and universal health coverage.”

One of the stated goals on the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s website, which our correspondent was able to view, was to integrate alternative and traditional medicine with orthodox medicine in order to preserve cultural heritages with respectable traditional practitioners.

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