By Afolabi Aribigbola
N igeria and Nigerians in the last 12 months or more have been engrossed with the 2023 general elections that took place in the early part of 2023 and since the outcome of the elections especially the presidential election that have been subject of intense contestations in the media and court of the land. This development has not given people and institutions to have time to look at other issues that are germane to the health and survival of the people of the nation. One of such is the proliferation and open display and advertisements of all kinds of herbal products and supplements that have not been verified, tested or approved for human consumption by the appropriate authority.
In recent times, the media space in Nigeria has been flooded with several advertisements on many supposedly potent herbal products capable of curing, preventing and treating many ailments affecting people, in particular men’s sexual dysfunctional problems. Indeed, it started with the adverts calling people to meet them stand 3 or 4 to meet one Iya or Baba from a known town renown for finding solutions to all human ailments including those that cannot be handled by orthodox medicine.
This initial approach of inviting customers to their stalls has graduated to open display on social media where such drugs are unashamedly advertised to unsuspecting people using different approaches to convince the people to procure their herbal products. Of course the information coming from these advertisements are often compelling, captivating and convincing that one is motivated to part with one’s hard earned money to procure them only to find out that most of the information are out rightly fake and untrue.
Of course this has become a serious concern to many. Why the proliferation of the herbal products in the country? Is it a product of ravaging poverty or 419 scenario that has been giving the country bad name over the years? Why is NAFDAC, a federal agency established to control drug production and administration in the country not addressing the menace of proliferation of unapproved herbal substances in the country? How did the country degenerate to a level where all manners of drugs are openly advertised and sold without any control and what are the dangers associated and what can be done to stem the dangerous trend. Indeed, many people got into this trade because of unemployment and the ravaging poverty prevalent in the country. It is common everywhere to see young girls who should be in school hawking some herbal substances including the popular ‘agbo’ without any form of quality control.
Indeed, while I am not competent to determine the potency or otherwise of these drugs, I can say with all boldness that many of them are not effective as often portrayed on the social media and hence my fear for the future health of the people of the country especially the youth that are now used to these drugs for one reason or the other. I have had reason to use some of these drugs in the past and some of them were said to come from Ghana and South Africa and other developing countries in Africa and Asia. Many of these drugs will have long term negative effects on the health and especially sensitive organs of the people such as kidney failure which experts said are on the rise in the country.
One dangerous consequence is that many unsuspecting people have been deceived to patronize these unsubstantiated herbal medicine to cure one ailment or the other. Unfortunately, after consuming the products, their situations often become worse before they are able to approach the conventional hospitals for assistance. The widespread proliferation of these herbal products in recent times has been adduced to escalating poverty and inflation resulting in high increases in the prices of drugs in the hospitals and pharmacies beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians. To make ends meet, many have resulted into the production of herbal drugs so as to be able to make money to support their families. While many Nigerians that could not afford the high cost of orthodox medicines have to result to the use of herbal drugs often cheaper and easy to access due to their uncontrolled open display.
On the part of the hawkers of these drugs, many entered the trade in their quest to survive the hard time. This has prompted many people to produce fake herbal drugs and sometimes substandard claiming to follow the tradition of our forefathers and that our forefathers live long on these traditional medicines. Thus they often confuse and convince many unsuspecting individuals to patronize their drugs. Rising poverty has also forced many people to resort to the use of herbal medicine instead of visiting the hospitals. Patrons of these herbal drugs in most cases resort to them because they are not only easily accessible but are relatively cheap compared to hospital treatment that are often overcrowded and far from the people.
Of course people must not misconstrue the standpoint of this write up. One is not discrediting the fact that herbal or traditional medicine is impotent or entirely not good. Afterall it was what sustained our traditional society for a long time till the incursion of orthodox medicine to our society. The grouse of this paper is the proliferation of several herbal products by unqualified and untrained individuals whose overriding intentions or motivation is to eke out a living for themselves by deceiving the vulnerable members of the society to part with their hard resources in their efforts to access health care which they could not afford in the conventional way.
Unfortunately, all these are happening without much efforts to combat and control the menace. Sad enough, many found their ways from other countries to Nigeria. These are drugs they could not openly advertise or sell in those countries. All NAFDAC has been doing is to register and give them number without approval, while majority are not registered at all and yet they are openly displayed for sale. It is therefore necessary to let Nigerians know which drug is approved for use by NAFDAC. Nigerians must be made to know that most of these drugs are not effective as claimed and they are products of some disgruntled elements to make end meet.
Therefore, care must be exercised in using them so as not to permanently destroy their health. It is necessary to begin to control open display of these drugs unless and until they are approved in line with best practices. A situation in which fake herbal substances are allowed in the country will only increase the health challenge of the citizenry. It is time to act on this dangerous trend to control their advertisement as recently demonstrated in Anambra state where unapproved advertisement of herbal products and medicine has been outlawed.