The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, on Friday said that Herbal Medicine would be introduced as a course of study in Nigerian universities.
Chukwu said this during an interactive session with newsmen on the occasion of the 2014 World Malaria Day in Umuahia.
He admitted that herbs were efficacious in the treatment of malaria, but noted that it needed to be studied as a course in the university.
The minister contended that for herbal medicine to be accepted and integrated in the treatment of malaria, the practitioners ought to study science courses.
He listed the subjects as Physiology, Anatomy, Pharmacology, Chemistry, among other subjects.
“It is only after studying these courses that herbal medicine practitioner can effectively diagnose and treat malaria and other health problems,’’ he said.
Chukwu said the inability of herbal medicine practitioners to scientifically diagnose diseases posed a great challenge toward the acceptability of herbs for disease treatment.
He said the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development was already carrying out a research on the efficacy of herbs in the treatment of ailments.
The minister further said that the National Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would also have to carry out a test on herbs to further ascertain their medicinal efficacies.
He charged herbal medicine practitioners to submit their herbs to NAFDAC for scientific test.
The minister stressed the need for environmental sanitation in the country, describing environmental cleanliness as a critical strategy in the fight against malaria.
“If your environment is dirty or you allow containers with water open in your compound as well as bushes where mosquitoes breed, you are poor.
“Such poverty is not because of the lack of money but it is poverty of the mind,’’ he said.
Chukwu said that past and present administrations in Nigeria had spent N198 billion in the fight against malaria in the last 10 years.
He said that preventable, malaria “still remains a major public health problem in Africa and Nigeria’’ and constituted a major barrier to social and economic development.
The minister assured Nigerians that President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was deeply concerned about the situation and would do everything possible to confront the scourge headlong.
Chukwu, who said the National Policy on malaria was being revised, added that the National Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP: 2014-2020), which would guide the implementation for the period, had been finalised.
“These documents have been repositioned to be more responsive to the vision of a malaria-free Nigeria in the shortest possible time in line with the National Strategic Health Development Plan.’’
He pointed out that the scourge was now responsible for two out of 10 deaths in children less than five years as against 30 per cent in previous years.
Chukwu said that government had distributed 60 million Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) throughout the federation between 2009 and 2013, adding that the replacement campaign had begun in line with the WHO guidelines.
“This is because after three to four years, the efficacy and physical integrity of the LLINs become compromised,’’ he said.
He expressed regrets that recent study showed that only about 29 per cent of children under five years actually sleep inside LLINs out of an average of 50 per cent of households in Nigeria that owned at least one LLIN.
Chukwu called for attitudinal change among Nigerians so that the country could reap the optimal benefit of the use of LLINs for malaria control.
The minister further explained that the Federal Government had commenced the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) in some states of the federation.
According to him, the states are Lagos, Rivers, Bauchi, Jigawa, Anambra and Akwa Ibom.
He explained that due to the required capital outlay, only less than 2 per cent of households in the federation were covered under IRS.
The minister also noted that Nigeria had made some progress “in the operation alienation of the Integrated, Test, Treat and Larval Source Reduction for Malaria Elimination Project’’.
Chukwu said in spite of the achievements so far recorded, a lot still needed to be done to achieve government’s target of achieving a malaria-free Nigeria.
He called for concerted efforts to scale up implementation, especially at the community levels.
The minister also called for increased domestic funding for malaria intervention by the three tiers of government, communities, philanthropists and private entrepreneurs.
“It is only then that the desired impact can be guaranteed,’’ he said.
Gov. Theodore Orji said that his administration placed high premium on health and security of the people, saying that the state government was committed to the eradication of malaria.
Orji described malaria as the worst enemy of the people, given the high rate of deaths, especially in children and expectant mothers.
He called for greater commitment by all Nigerians in the war against the scourge, adding that the disease would be eradicated with more sensitisation and scientific inventions as well as increased funding.
Earlier, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Okechukwu Ogah, said that malaria had affected man for over 50,000 years and had led to the death of millions of people worldwide.
Ogah explained that a WHO report in 2012, showed that there were about 207 million cases of malaria and an estimated 627,000 deaths worldwide.
He said malaria was one of the four commonest causes of deaths in children in Africa, adding that a child dies every minute from malaria.
“Data indicate that about 300,000 children die from malaria in our country, it is also responsible for about 11 per cent of maternal mortality,’’ Ogah said.
The commissioner also said that Nigeria was losing N132 billion annually to malaria as cost of treatment, prevention, loss of man hours, among other factors.
Ogah said that malaria was endemic in Abia and accounted for 60 per cent of causes of outpatient hospital attendance and 11 per cent of childhood and maternal deaths in the state.
He said that the state had set up a malaria and vector control programme in line with the strategic plan of the National Malaria Elimination Programme. [NAN]