Gambia Hosts 7 WAHO Congress on Traditional, Scientific Medicine

SarjoCamara-Singateh
The West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO), with support fromGuests and delegates
ECOWAS,held its 7th Scientific Congress on Traditional Medicine
Practitioners (TMPS) and Conventional Medicine Practitioners (CMPs) at
the Paradise Suites Hotel from the 3-4th September 2015.
In declaring the meeting officially opened, Dr. AbubacarrSenghore, the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, told
the delegates that the sole aim of bringing them together is in
keeping with the objective of WAHO to support the ECOWAS Member States
to promote dialogue between the practitioners of traditional medicine
and conventional medicine.
“You will recall that 6th Scientific  Congress of  Traditional
Medicine Practitioners and Conventional Medicine Practitioners held in
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in 2013, explored ways and means of  how
we can more effectively harness traditional medicine in the on going
efforts to reduce the growing burden of maternal and child
mortality in the ECOWAS sub-region,” said the science and research
minister.
He added that the main justification for this has been to achieve the
MDG goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75%  by  2015 and which, he
said, is already adopted as an International Development Target (IDT).
Dr. Senghore said in addition to this, it was at the same venue that
the  congress launched the newly published West African Herbal
Pharmacopoeia and which is a land mark document consisting of
monographs of medicinal plants used primarily for the treatment of 6
priority diseases namely malaria, hypertension, diabetes, sickle cell
anaemia, HIV/AIDs and TB which were developed with experts from the
sub-region
“We are here to discuss traditional medicine because in some
communities in ECOWAS Member States traditional medicine has been a
crucial part of healing for hundreds of years. In some African
countries, 80% of the population depend on traditional medicine for
primary health care,” he said.
Dr. Senghore said in  spite  of  the  huge  advances  in  science  and
technology, traditional medicine remains the  only source of health
care for the vast majority of African populations for meeting their
healthcare needs. “And even today, herbal medicine remains the first
line of treatment for 60% of children with malaria¬ induced high fever
in some ECOWAS countries, justifying the theme: “Current Level of
Traditional Medicine Development in the ECOWAS Region” of  the  7th
Scientific  Congress of Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMPS) and
Conventional Medicine Practitioners (CMPs),” said the higher
education, research, science and technology minister.
Dr. Senghore said it has been recognized that traditional medicine has
a long history in our communities with wide impact, adding that it is
still an important component of modern health care system thus
playing a significant and indispensable role in many countries.
“Various types of traditional medicine and medical practices referred
to as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) have been
increasingly used in developed and developing countries alike,” he
said.
Dr. Xavier Crespin, the Director General of WAHO, said his experience
as the DG of WAHO over the last one and a half years has revealed to
him how fragile the health systems in their countries are. “This
explains our perennial inability to respond to the rampant outbreaks
of disease epidemics in our region,” he revealed.

The WAHO DG said he is convinced that the immense potential of
Traditional Medicine could be harnessed to address some of these
health challenges, adding that it is for this reason that he has taken
keen interest in the promotion of rational traditional medicine
practice in the ECOWAS region.

“Indeed, this meeting is timely coming at a time when WAHO is
developing its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan . I am aware that the
Programme Officer made wide consultations with all of you for your
inputs, which have been captured under the following 5 major
interventions: Implementation of intellectual property rights on
pharmaceuticals, including Traditional Medicines; Strengthening
innovation, research and development of drugs and vaccines, including
Traditional Medicine products; Promoting local production of medicinal
plants of proven efficacy; Strengthening the capacities of National
Medicines Regulatory Authorities and Quality Control Laboratories and
Promoting Education and Training in Traditional Medicine,” said the
WAHO DG.
Dr Kofi Busia of WAHO said he was convinced this congress will
generate intellectually stimulating discussions that will inform them
about where they are and what they need to do to go forward.
“In our attempts to promote traditional medicine, we need to be
innovative, passionate, courageous, flexible to change, selfless, and
above all respectful of our Traditional Medicine Practitioners,” he
told delegates.
He said “if after 8 years of WAHO’s interventions, your country is
still at the same level that it was before 2007, then I am afraid, you
have a case to answer before the court of generations yet unborn.
History will surely not forgive us if we fail to seize the moment to
improve traditional medicine practice in this part of the world.”
He told the delegates that as they are gathered there to take stock of
their achievements and failures, let them constantly remember that
this is the only sub-region with a structured and funded programme for
traditional medicine based in a health institution on the continent,
and that they  must be forever grateful to the WAHO authorities, in
particular, and their governments for making this possible.
Dr Tamsir Mbowe, who spoke on integrating traditional medicine into
national health systems to contribute to universal health coverage in
ECOWAS, said several countries are beginning to accept the immense
ways in which traditional medicine can contribute to the health and
well-being of their people. He said governments, healers and consumers
are now beginning to consider aspects of traditional medical practices
and how it can be integrated into health service delivery.
Dr. Mbowe said in several developing countries, native healers are
still the major health providers for millions of people living in
rural areas.
He said the safety, quality, potential and effectiveness of
traditional and complementary medical service provision cannot be
ensured unless appropriate regulation of its practices and
practitioners are put in place.
Dr. Mbowe, however noted that one of the major challenges they are
faced with in The Gambia is the illiteracy level of most of the
traditional medical practitioners. He said health-related projects
initiated by local communities on the use of traditional herbal
medicines are more likely to succeed if they are based upon
partnerships involving conventional medicine.
Dr. Mbowe said for traditional medicine to be effectively integrated
into national health systems to contribute to universal health
coverage in ECOWAS, countries have to establish health institutes to
promote research on the safety, efficacy and quality of plants used in
traditional medicines, particularly for the treatment of common
infections such as malaria, diabetes, hypertension and other diseases.
He added that ethical and legal consideration should be consistent
across all types of healthcare, ensuring patient health and safety is
prioritised.
He concluded that it is imperative that governments are accountable
for the nature of health care provided to its people and should
incorporate it in its policies, regulations on safe and effective
practice of traditional medicine.