A call has been made for the Centre for Plant Medicine Research, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) to clamp down on illegal sale and abuse of plant medicine to mitigate the health risks to the public.
The Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, who made that call, said the consumption of untested herbal products, use of additives, and lack of standardisation in the administering of plant medicine was a major health issue that ought to be tackled head on.
Mr Oppong-Nkrumah described the situation as worrying and asked the regulatory bodies to take immediate action to sanitise the herbal industry.
He was speaking at the third Dr Oku Ampofo Memorial Symposium organised by the Centre for Plant Medicine Research in Accra yesterday.
The symposium, which was held on the theme "Plant medicine for health and wealth: moving towards a Ghana beyond aid", was attended by high profile scientists, plant researchers, and the academia.
In 2016, the global herbal medicine industry was estimated at $71 billion and projected to hit $111 billion by 2023.
About 80 per cent of the African population,including Ghana, depend on herbal medicine, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Despite the huge potential of the herbal industry to create jobs, increase foreign exchange and improve health care, there are growing concerns about the sale of the products under questionable circumstances.
For instance, some vendors sell herbal products to unsuspecting members of the public in vehicles, lorry stations and other public spaces without expiry dates and FDA certification.
Mr Oppong-Nkrumah said the theme for the symposium was apt, especially when it came at a time Ghana was striving to move beyond aid.
"When we talk about Ghana beyond aid, it includes the exploitation of our natural resources to fuel our development agenda.
This means that medicinal plants will have to be harnessed properly to boost traditional medicine and improve the health of people and to create wealth," he said.
He assured the gathering that the government would engage the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and other stakeholders to ensure that plant medicine was incorporated into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
Planting for health
The Executive Director of the Centre for Plant Medicine Research, Professor Augustine Ocloo, bemoaned the lack of support for plant medicine in the country and said the industry risked collapsing, if nothing was done to save it.
He advocated the addition of medicinal plant cultivation to the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) policy to sustain the industry.
According to him, about 90 per cent of the plant materials used by the industry for medicine were derived from wild sources but said the fast depletion of forest resources meant that those plants would soon disappear from the country.
"In 2017 the centre alone consumed about GH 500,000 worth of plant materials, a figure that is likely to triple, if the centre is to improve on its production capacity and meet ever increasing demand for its products.
“The cultivation of medicinal plants can be one of the modules of the PFJ or perhaps, it could be dubbed ‘Planting for Health and Jobs’.
There is the need to critically look at the proposal to prevent an imbalance in the ecosystem," he stressed.
Prof. Ocloo said the Centre had started an out-grower scheme to encourage farmers to go into mix farming of medicinal plants and traditional food crops.
He also expressed concern about the inability of most herbal medicines to be listed on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) because of the registration regime used by the FDA.
“The FDA still gives one-year registration to herbal medicines and this is significantly affecting the listing of these products onto the NHIS drug list,” he explained.
A professor at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa, Prof. Anthony Afolayan, called for investment in traditional medicine to improve the health of people and also create wealth.