Opinions Tue, 10 Nov 2015

Most Herbal Medicine Practitioners merit Nobel Award

Herbal Medicine is an ancient medical system that has provided the world with safe, effective and affordable medicines for at least 60,000 years and even today, the populations of developing countries worldwide continue to rely on herbal medicines for their primary healthcare needs.

Furthermore, at least 60% of Ghanaians use traditional medicine as the first port-of-call in primary care, particularly in rural areas: ‘every village or hamlet has a traditional resource for health care within easy access.

In Ghana, a lot of development into herbal medicine has been carried out by different governments in the past; the establishment of the Ghana Psychic and traditional Healers’ Association, the establishment of the Center for Scientific Research into plant and recently the commencement of the herbal medicine program at the tertiary Level of education at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 2001.

Herbal medicines serve as the model for the discovery of new synthetic drugs in and around the world. Examples: Artemisinin in Artemesia annua (starting compound for pharmaceutical antimalarial therapies) produces the antimalarial effect of that plant. Cocaine from the Coca plant as an analgelsic and stimulant, Morphine from Opium poppy plant to reduce pains.

A recent article published on Yahoo health on ‘3 Share Nobel Medicine Prize for New Tools to Kill Parasites’ talks about three great scientists who have distinguished themselves in the medical field.

The three scientists from the U.S., Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday, 5th October, 2015 for discovering drugs to fight malaria and other tropical diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people every year. The Scientists of importance to me is Tu Youyou.

Tu Youyou - the first-ever Chinese medicine laureate - was cited for discovering a drug that’s now the primary treatment against malaria, saving millions of lives worldwide. Inspired by Chinese traditional medicine, she made her discovery while working on an anti-malaria project for the Chinese military.

As a junior researcher, Tu was recruited by the Chinese government to work on a military project in 1969 to find anti-malaria drugs. She turned to herbal medicine to discover a new anti-malarial agent in an extract from the sweet wormwood plant. The agent, artemisinin was highly effective against malaria, a disease that was on the rise in the 1960s, the committee said.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that still kills around 500,000 people a year, mostly in Africa, despite efforts to control it.

“The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable,” was the measure by the committee to award them the Nobel price.

Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (locally called Nibima) is a plant well known in the West African region for it antimalarial properties (Wright; Cimanga, 1997).

The Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR) Mampong-Akwapim has an existing product sold under the trade name Nibima, made from an aqueous extract of the plant and several other products (for Asthma, hypertension, bacterial infections) from different plants. So it means they are nobel winners but do not know.

What about Plants indigenous only to Ghana and some few countries but have medicinal properties; like Rauwolfia vomitoria for treating Hypertension, Prekese (Tetrapleura tetraptera) which has a lot of medicinal properties i.e. lowers blood pressure, as a flavoring agent and a food supplement. A potential winner for a Nobel Prize is Prekese.

Most of the research works done in the Biosciences at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology are mostly done with Plants i.e. activities of Plants against microbial organisms, communicable and non-communicable diseases for students in the Undergraduates, Masters and Doctorate echelons. Research works done at the Doctorates can be patented internationally it involves the isolation of novel molecules. So it means the University has a lot of unknown novel winners in the offing.

Herbal products have been performing wonderful health effects in our country but none of them have been invested into for general development and patent by the government and our research institutions to win any Nobel award.

Did you know you can treat hydrocephalus with herbs? Go to Accra, a suburb called Hong Kong, and you will see the magic of herbal medicines. Suffice to say this; I have prescribed some herbal products to Hepatitis B patients which has reduced their symptoms and viral loads immensely. I can say without mincing words that such products, if researched and developed well will not only survive in our community but for the general world population since there is no known drug for Hepatitis B.

In spite of this advancement in herbal medicine, Ghanaians are still not privileged to patented herbal medicines since most people do not have knowledge to the procedures and developments involved. Why?

I believe with more advocacy program to enlighten Ghanaians about these developments, there will be more discoveries in the Plant medicine world. Moreover most of our plants are either taken outside of the country to be researched into by foreigners after seeing their potency or secretly researched into in the country.

The Government, Pharmaceuticals divert more of their resources into the herbal industry since that is the future of the health system.

My name is H/Dr. Maxwell Owusu, a future Nobel winner in herbal discovery.

By: H/Dr. Maxwell Owusu

President, Herbal Foundation of Ghana


Columnist: Maxwell Owusu