Tuesday, October 9, 2007
ROLE OF MEDICAL HERBALISTS IN THE HEALTH CARE DELIVERY SYSTEM
By JOSEPH OBIRI ASANTE
HERBAL medicine practice is an ancient form of therapy, which continues to provide safe holistic health care for an estimated 80 per cent of people in Sub-Sahara Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Herbal medicine practice mainly involves the use of medicinal plants to treat both acute and chronic physiological and psycho-immunological disorders. Medicinal plants work gently to promote the body’s own self-healing physiological efforts rather than suppression of symptoms.
Medical Herbalists (MH) or Herbal Clinicians are men and women, who have undertaken four or more years of intensive higher education in the medicinal and herbal science to become competent, safe, general practitioners of herbal medicine.
They use holistic approach in their consultations and treatment by viewing the patient as a psychosocial whole.
The practice of herbal medicine does not involve invasive procedures and these professionals are fully aware of their limitations and the referral routes. Like their allopathic counterparts, herbal practice can be very stressful and isolated and at the same time very rewarding.
Among the many duties of the medical herbalist or herbal clinician, are to:
* Use knowledge of herbal pharmacy, pharmacognosy and herbal pharmacology to grow, prepare and produce herbal medicines as well as undertake consultancies to assist herb growers and product manufacturers.
* Undertake consultations, which usually include a detailed history covering all the body systems, a physical examination, general observation and assessment of a patient’s body language and other factors in order to make a proper diagnosis.
* Use expert knowledge of medicinal plants to make appropriate prescriptions for treating a wide range of illness.
* Carry out follow-up appointments to assess patients’ progress and to be on call to patients or to assigned units.
* Provide dietary and lifestyle advise to patients.
* Keep precise and confidential patients records.
* Ensure appropriate therapeutic relationships in all consultations for patient comfort and foster confidence.
* Maintain proper lines of communication with other health practitioners and specialist centres and cross-referring of patients where appropriate.
* Maintaining high ethnical and professional standards as well as a welcoming, professional working environment.
* Undertake outreach programmes to generate awareness of good herbal practice and safe use of herbal medicines within the community; giving talks, presentations and lectures and organizing workshops.
* Teaching and supporting undergraduate herbalists and undertaking phytopharmacological and ethnobotanical research.
* To assist the Ministry of Health, Traditional and Alternative Medicine Directorate (TAMD), research institutions, regulatory bodies, other health parishioners and the media on issues related to clinical herbal practice.
Medical herbalists or herbal clinicians have a lot of career development opportunities such as:
* Research and post graduate training in area such as pharmacognosy, herbal pharmacology, dispensing, product formulation, ethnobotany, medical anthropology and various disciplines in general medicine.
* Undertaking training courses in practice management.
Keeping up-to-date by reading new research publications on medicinal plants and medicine in general.
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), in 2001 started a Bachelor’s degree programme in Herbal Medicine. It is the first of its kind in the whole of Africa and in 2005 history was made when a group of herbal clinicians graduated from the School of Health Sciences, KNUST.
Currently, the first batch is about to finish a two-year comprehensive internship scheme organized by the Ministry of Health. Among the various institutions and regulatory bodies involved in herbal medicine are The Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicines (CSRPM) at Mampong, Akuapem, Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital (TQMH), Food and Drugs Board (FDB) and Noguchie Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR).
Even though we find ourselves in an era of resurgent interest in herbal medications and products, various challenges face the practice and the use of herbal medicines in Ghana. Among them are the establishment of the safety of herbal products, inappropriate dosages, intellectual property rights protection, illiteracy among practitioners, poor conservation of the vast arsenals of medicinal plants, quackery in the practice and lack of effective government policies to handle these issues.
The efforts to the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service in delivering quality and affordable healthcare for all Ghanaians, the implementation of effective policies to address these challenges and the role of the medical herbalists or herbal clinicians cannot be overlooked.
The prospects of these professionals are enormous but many questions have been raised as to where the Ministry of Health is placing them after engaging them for two years of internship. As a mater of concern, their one year internship allowances have not been paid by the Ministry, so where lies the fate of these young but endowed intellectuals?
These graduates should not be victims of circumstances, the blame game by both the policy makers and the implementers should be avoided so that the laudable recommendations put forth by Ghana’s Strategic Plan for the Development and Eventual Integration of Herbal Medicine into the Ghana Health Service could be achieved. Through this, it is believed that Ghanaians will have a choice to holistic quality health care and benefit fully from herbal medicine practice.
I will therefore urge the Ministry of Health to engage and motivate this new breed of health professionals to work in the regional and district hospitals, research institutions and regulatory bodies to complement the efforts of other health professionals in offering quality, affordable and holistic health care for all.
The Ghanaian Times Tuesday, October 9, 2007 Page: 9