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Agenda 111: Add government herbal & Naturopathic hospitals

India Natho A typical example of government Naturopathy hospital in India

As healthcare policy researchers, we find the government's Agenda 111 as a good policy to enhance our healthcare delivery. As a country, however, we need to acknowledge the fact that healthcare in Ghana is shredded with equity challenges.

Though there has been some effort by the current and past governments to integrate herbal medicine in some selected government hospitals, this project has been saddled with numerous challenges.

For instance, in one facility we visited, the Medical Herbalist in charge bemoaned the decline in patients patronizing their services.

We realized that though the herbal department was in a government hospital, patients were of the view that they had to share the same services with those seeking conventional therapies, thus, causing some level of discomfort among them as some conventional providers consider Complementary and Alternative therapies as inferior.

For instance, a patient who intends to seek herbal services will have to use the same laboratory department and other imaging services being utilized by those seeking conventional care.

This also creates huge delays for patients seeking herbal services. Further, placing herbal and naturopathic medicine departments under the management of healthcare managers such as Medical Superintendents and Nurse Managers who have little or no training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a recipe for disaster.

These healthcare managers have had almost all their training and practice in conventional medicine and as such, do not understand and appreciate the needs and elements that are required for a Complementary and Alternative Medicine unit to function at an optimal level.

This is one of the major reasons for which the integration of herbal medicine into the primary healthcare system has not been as effective.

There are numerous reasons for which many people forgo conventional government hospitals for their medical care and opt for herbal or even private facilities.

Results from an empirical study we conducted to examine the push factors driving Ghanaian healthcare consumers from mainstream medicine revealed that long queues and extended waiting times at the government hospitals, frequent strikes of conventional medical practitioners, perceived side effects of conventional drugs, and inaccessibility of such services are some of the reasons for which people are opting for herbal and other naturopathic facilities.

Government Standalone Herbal Hospitals

Due to this, we are of the opinion that it is time for the government to also set up standalone government Naturopathic hospitals in the country as part of their agenda 111. These hospitals should be autonomous and separated from any conventional facilities.

This move is likely to generate huge revenue for the government in the country as it will build public trust and allow patients to seek Naturopathic services from these government centers.

It will further prevent more people from seeking private services from herbal and Naturopathic facilities which do not have qualified personnel and are highly unregulated.

This will go a long way to prevent unnecessary deaths and disabilities which occur as a result of people patronizing quack herbal practitioners. The government Herbal and Naturopathic hospitals should be built with state-of-the-art and ultramodern equipment.

This will place Ghana’s health system on a pedestal such that it can compete with other countries, and reduce the rate at which people leave the shores of Ghana to access healthcare, causing the country to lose revenue. China, India, and other advanced countries have such unique stand-alone government Naturopathic Hospitals where people seek quality medical services from.

If this concept is adopted by the Ghanaian government, there will be a huge boost in the practice of alternative complementary medicine in Ghana and in effect, reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, due to the naturopathic principles which are applied in the delivery of such services.

Equity in Healthcare and Training

Further, we need to appreciate the fact that the healthcare dynamics are gradually changing. The world at large has embraced Herbal and Naturopathic Medicine. Ghana must not be left behind. Also, training of healthcare professionals in the fields of naturopathy, herbal medicine, Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and other Complementary and alternative medicine fields is currently ongoing in Ghana.

Occupational standards are currently being developed with the aim of providing the country with top-notch practitioners who are comparable to any conventional medical practitioner. All these factors need to be considered when making major health policy decisions such as Agenda 111.

The Indian Model

In India, there are many separate government naturopathic hospitals operating distinctively from the mainstream hospitals being managed by the Naturopathic or what they term AYUSH professionals. AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha & Homoeopathy) professionals are on par with mainstream doctors.

Conclusion

We believe that the government’s Agenda 111 should have another model for government Herbal and Naturopathic hospitals in the country as done in India and other advanced countries.

The herbal and Naturopathic hospitals should be autonomous and distinct from any government conventional facility. This, we believe will create equality in healthcare delivery in the country.

We believe that if it must be done, it must be done well!

For Agenda 111 to achieve its ultimate goal of making Ghana a “Centre of Excellence in medical care in the West African sub-Region”, it must cover all aspects of the health service delivery spectrum and in addition to conventional medicine, make room for Complementary and Alternative Medicine including Herbal Medicine and Naturopathic facilities.

Moving forward as a nation in healthcare delivery, we call on the government to always think about the Herbal and Naturopathic community in their policies.

Columnist: Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu, and Lawrencia Aggrey-Bluwey