Nigerians turn to healers as Covid hits Africa

By Akintunde Akinleye

Lagos, Nigeria, Jun 26 (epa-efe).- Herbal remedies provided by so-called “traditional healers” have long been popular in Nigeria, often more so than conventional Western medicine, and these carers have been overwhelmed by the number of people seeking their services during the pandemic.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, most of these practitioners believe that if traditional knowledge and clinical trials of herbs were properly harnessed then diseases such as Covid-19 could be treated locally.

“I can tell you that Africans do have local herbal solutions to the coronavirus disease,” Nurat Adejoke, 60, who has practiced herbal medicine for 30 years, tells epa-efe.

“The only problem is that none of the government people who castigate traditional treatment would tell the truth.

“They all come here to (…) us behind closed doors for their own treatments.”

Traditional healers play an important role in health care in Nigeria and many other African communities and the majority of the population go to them for most of their ailments.

Many have deep local knowledge about traditional medicine but little or no formal education.

Oluwakemi Kuburat Oni, a college graduate who became a herbalist six years ago, says: “I rejected doing this work after many years because I believe it is a dirty, archaic old practice.

“But I had to have a rethink about six years ago after my mum retired from it after many years of her engagement with the herbal traditional medicine.

“I can tell you now, I have no regrets taking it up. I have treated many people using local herbs and people do pray for me whenever they come back after they get healed.”

Links to spiritual and religious practices as well as their accessibility and affordability mean traditional medicine and therapies are often more popular than conventional practices.

This trend has continued as the coronavirus pandemic has swept Africa, with many flocking to healers as opposed to medical centres to seek treatment for Covid-19.

Most of the traditional medicine stalls are dark and cramped and are normally in local markets where food and other daily essentials are sold.

Herbal medicine has traditionally been culturally reserved for women but there are some men who have ventured into the profession.

Saheed Oyindamola, a former music producer who took up the practice after the death of his mother in 2017, says: “Although many people approach us to solve their different health issues on a daily basis, including those government officials who reject herbal medicine publicly, we are still struggling to convince the Nigeria government to take the issues of local herbal medicine serious.

“This also can help us in dealing with the coronavirus.”

There is a significantly higher number of patients seeking traditional remedies compared with conventional treatment, according to a World Health Organization 2019 report.

The report highlighted that in Ghana, 70 percent of patients prefer to use herbal medicine over chemical compounds.

The WHO has been working with traditional healers to combine their practice with scientific methods, tools and guidelines and contribute to better access to medicines and achieving universal health coverage in Africa.

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