By Sharon Atieno

With emergence of climate change, global warming, resistance of disease causing organisms to common antibiotics, we must think of other alternative medicines.

These sentiments were made by Dr. Jack Githae, a herbal specialist with over 30 years experience in the area of traditional medicine during a symposium at the 10th KEMRI Annual Scientific Health (KASH) conference.

With primary health care being an essential driver of universal health coverage (UHC), WHO estimates that, 70%-80% of people in developing countries use traditional medicine as primary health care.

Noting that most of the diseases being treated in conventional medicine and traditional medicine are as a result of nutrition imbalances or malnutrition, Dr. Githae said: “We have to think about better plant based ingredients in, not all, balanced human and livestock diets and rations.”

Basing on his 50 years practice in traditional medicine, he decried that medicinal foods are a much ignored area and that there is need to domesticate some from the wild to make them crops because of the role they are likely to play particularly in preventing minor ailments and in enhancing our immunity to cope with both existing and emerging diseases.

He says that despite having very many medicinal plants that we can use to make medicine locally, many people are ignorant of these medicines found naturally in the environment.

In incorporating traditional medicine and natural products as alternative sources of medicine, Dr. Githae noted that the criteria should be based on safety, efficiency, affordability, availability, ease of adaptation, compatibility with others and popularity.

Though advocating for use of traditional medicine in the attainment of UHC, the experts observed that there were bottlenecks that needed to be addressed.

Dr. Githae said that there was urgent need to have an inventory of the natural products and traditional medicine resources to enhance our capacity to protect, propagate and sustainably utilize the same.

In order to address the challenge of lack of capacity building in the area, Dr. Peter Kirira, Principal, College of Graduate Studies and Research-Mount Kenya University said that there was need to come up with institutions and learning centres where indigenous knowledge of natural products and traditional medicine can be shared.

Prof. Jennifer Orwa, KEMRI said that there was need to work on intellectual property rights of the natural products and traditional medicine in order to profit from commercialization of the products.

The experts noted that there is need for proper regulation with regards to the WHO traditional medicine strategy to support the practice of using these products, innovations and conservation as well as commercialization.

So far, 98 countries have developed national policies on traditional and complementary medicine with 47 being African Member States.