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Opinions Sat, 11 Jul 2020

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Ghana ‘quack doctors’ selling ‘coronavirus cures’ - A look at the herbal industry

On 29th June 2020, ace undercover investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas released a documentary that exposed some unscrupulous individuals who have been exploiting the coronavirus pandemic and selling fake coronavirus cures. In the 30 minutes video, the undercover journalist investigated two quack doctors, Dr. Abdellah and Dr Abdul Sarnad Bin Musa who were exploiting the pandemic to make money. They claim on air that their cure is not for sale but waiting for trials from the necessary agency.

Checks later indicated that they were selling the supposed cure, claiming the drug does not need any trial because it is potent and people were even leaving hospitals to come for them. A typical trait of a conman. According to the documentary, toxicological analyses showed all their products failed to meet standards for human consumption and have not been approved by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA). These so called ‘Doctors’ as at now have been detained by the FDA and are facing questioning.

Reports showed that the two were operating a Herbal Centre known as Dr. Abdellah Herbal Home, which served as both a consulting premise and a production Centre. Although their Centre is closed down and their business halted, it will interest you to know that there are more of the likes of Dr. Abdallah and co out there who out of ignorance, greed and selfishness are boosting in confidence to cure everything and are giving unwholesome preparations for people to take. On 27th April 2020, a 52-year-old man identified as King David was similarly arrested by the Awutu Bereku District Police station for allegedly selling Shea butter as a cure for the novel coronavirus. To these people you are just a prey that have fallen into their trap; ready to exploit you to fatten their pockets regardless of the complications that their preparation may have on you.

These documentary made by the investigative journalist asserts to the numerous challenges faced by the Herbal Industry with regards to regulation, quackery and misleading claims which are made by some practitioners in their advertisement and interviews on various media platforms. Though the caption of Anas exposé had it “Quack Doctors”, these people may equally be referred to as “Quack Herbalist. Yes, we have quacks in the field of Herbal Medicine practice, so as we have seasoned professionals that are making significant contributions. A quack is basically a fraudulent or ignorant pretender to a skill especially in the area of medical science or someone who pretends professionally or publicly to have a skill, knowledge, qualification or credentials which they do not have. These people are not registered with any professional body and hence does not have their activities regulated.

In Ghana, all Traditional Medicine Practitioners are supposed to follow rigorously all regulations that have been set up by the Traditional Medicine Practice Act 2000 (Act 575), which allows the formation of the Traditional Medicine Practice Council (TMPC). The Council which was established in 2010 is mandated to regulate the activities of Traditional Medicine Practitioners. It is expected that any person with adequate proficiency in the practice of any form of Traditional Medicine must register with the council and be licensed to operate.

Based on the service and qualification of the practitioner, the council then describes the registration/licensing status of the person, either as a Native Doctor (N/Dr), Traditional Doctor (T/Dr) or Medical Herbalist (Dr M.H). All practitioners are also expected to join the Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (GHAFTRAM). This is an umbrella body that houses all thirty (30) associations of Traditional Medicine practitioners in the country. The federation, in their bid to enforce quality practices in the manufacturing and practice of Herbal Medicines, collaborate with institutions such as the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to organize workshops annually for indigenous practitioners on good cultivation and harvesting practices, good manufacturing practices, good distribution and storage practices and good clinical practices among others.

The license of every practitioner is subject to renewal annually and it must be displayed at a prominent place which is accessible to patients or prospective clients. For manufacturers of herbal medicine, according to the Public Health Act 2012 (Act 851), their products and premises have to be registered by the appropriate authority, in this case the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA). Failure to follow any of these directives prevents one from manufacturing, marketing any Herbal product or practice as a practitioner and therefore may be labelled as a quack. Also, the Ministry of Health has issued ‘Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ in Ghana which clearly describes how a practitioner is expected to relate to patients, his profession, colleague practitioners and to the general public. Any breach in the code of ethics and standard of practice or any misconduct by a practitioner is expected to be dealt with by the appropriate regulating body which is the TMPC.

Though successive government have laid down policies and have established institutions to regulate the practice and marketing of Herbal Medicines in the country, it is imperative that we the public become concerned about the herbal products we buy, whom we buy it from, where it is being bought from and where we seek herbal treatment anytime we fall sick. We must query every product we buy if it has proof of analysis for the purpose which it is being sold and whether it has been registered by the Food and Drugs authority.

If in doubts, one can visit the FDA registered product catalog on their website to verify. We must also endeavor to find out if the one who is prescribing a herbal drug for us have been licensed. Since section 10 of the Traditional Medicine Practice Act 2000 (Act 575) requires that every practitioner must display their license at prominent places in their facility, anytime you visit a facility check to find out if the practitioner is licensed and the place registered. Of recent, there Are Herbal Units in most government hospitals in the country; anytime you visit a hospital, ask to see a medical herbalist.

Also, it will be very prudent if the TMPC and the FDA partner with the National Media Commission (NMC) and the Ghana Independent Broadcaster Association (GIBA) on controlling misleading contents or claims that are made by practitioners about their products and practicing Centres (clinic or hospital) during advertisement and interviews.

The licensing and registration statuses of Traditional Practitioners, their products and Centre of practice must be verified by media houses before airing or promoting their content. Media houses should also be tasked to inspect FDA vetting approvals before airing any advertisement about a herbal product. This will go a long way to bring sanity into the practice of Herbal Medicine in the country and lessen numerous act of quackery expressed by some practitioners, in order to protect the health of the public.

We need to be careful especially in this pandemic so that we will not fall prey to conmen seeking to suck the health and wealth out from us. In the Ghana ‘quack doctors’ selling ‘Covid cure’ exposé by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, I noticed that the supposed ‘Covid19 cure’ labels of Dr. Abdellah and his researcher, Dr Abdul Sarnad Bin Musa had the logo of the Traditional Medicine Practice Council on it.

It is very disappointing that as at now the Council have not released any communique to clarify their relationship with the two. As to when the council will do such (if only they deem it relevant) we wait to see. Also, Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his team upon seeing the FDA registration number on the product, were quick to contact FDA for verification.

The same way they should have contacted the Traditional Medicine Practice Council which happens to be the main regulators of these practitioners, for authentication of the licensing or registration status of the two. It is also very unfortunate that in the documentary, no expect in Traditional Medicine or any leadership of GHAFTRAM was consulted for a professional opinion on the issue. It is my hope that in the near future, appropriate recognition will be given to the association body of traditional practitioners and their regulators in case of any misconduct or in situations where clarification is needed.

REFERENCES

Traditional Medicine Practice Act 2000

Public Health Act 2012

BBC Africa eye documentary: Exposing fake coronavirus cures in Ghana.

Wikipedia

CEPHAS KWAKU DEBRAH

CEPHASDEBRAH@GMAIL.COM

Columnist: Cephas kwaku Debrah, Contributor

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