Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie
This is one of the most contentious issues to plague health care in our country, not the least because its practice dates back to an era even before recorded history. As a result, the entire environment surrounding it bothers on mysticism, mystery and suspicion. Its practices are not written down anywhere and it is often conducted in the shadows with a lot of spurious claims. In such an environment, there will be derision and sometimes, fear with regards to this whole scheme as a reflection of the status of healthcare. Many of its practitioners are not known to supervisory agencies and so any mishaps arising from what they do usually go uncensored. Worse, there is no formal regulation of their kind of practice except in a few states in Nigeria. As a result, the public has no choice but to believe what they are told; the efficacy of any particular practice is handed down through the generations from father to offspring usually by word of mouth.
But it does not have to be so. Even in the industrialised nations of the world, alternative medicine is an important player in healthcare. In France, any practitioner is required to first have a degree in a medically affiliated specialty. It could therefore be medicine, pharmacy, nursing or in related courses such as physiology and microbiology. Therefore, the practitioners are known and there is a track record of their areas of study and accomplishments. In the United States where there are experts in everything you can imagine, there are even universities which offer alternative medicine as a degree course. Such a system creates an atmosphere of study, professionalism and progress. The current state of alternative medical care in our country, though it remains the first port of call for the majority of our people, is a system that cannot be replicated. It is therefore doomed to continue operating as an opaque relic.
One person suffering from a particular ailment is likely to get different prescriptions of the same thing depending on where he is in the country. That means that when a person has a fever for example, he may be compelled to consume one kettle-full of a herbal product known as “agbo.” Another person could be given only a cupful while a third person is made to use various utensils whose volume falls between any of these ones. The practice therefore is very elastic and not made available to those who would want to study it except they are family members.
It is perhaps because of reasons such as we have above that our local “dongoyaro” has remained static in use at the level of a herbal medicine, while the South Asian relative known as “qinghaosu” or Chinese wormwood, has found its way into manufactured antimalarial preparations in widespread use today. It is called a relative of the latter drug because both have been in use for centuries in traditional medicine practices. While the Asians have democratised access to those medications by working assiduously with people from elsewhere in the world to ensure uniform results are obtained and the great majority of the people benefit, their competitors from the African continent have hoarded similar knowledge ensuring that the required skills do not leave family units.
As fit and proper compensation for her efforts, the leading worker in that effort, Tu Youyou, was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2015. Now it appears that the extract of Chinese wormwood, Artemisinin, could also have applications in cancer treatment. The fate of Dogonyaro is evident for all to see and it sadly mirrors what has happened elsewhere in the entire landscape of traditional medicine practices in our region. The other famous plants said to have medicinal applications have similarly suffered at the hands of the local players who would not share their knowledge. Bitter leaf, pumpkin leaves, ogbolo, bitter kola and many others are thought to be rich in possible modern applications for the management of health. The bonus ought to be that these compounds, being natural products, should elicit as little side effects as possible. Sadly, beyond the uncoordinated research efforts of a handful of ardent workers, little has been achieved in this direction.
The modern efforts to copy some of these attributes have ended up being pyramid schemes in effect. There is the promise of huge financial reward and the offer of cars, houses and boat cruises but nothing of real substance applicable to healthcare. It does not help matters that the sale of those products is available to whosoever has got marketing skills. Consequently, not much is objectively determinable from the mess of products now passed off as supplements with health care applications. As dongoyaro has suffered, so has cinchona whose bark was used for centuries for the production of Quinine that enjoyed dominance in the area of malaria treatment for many years. Many of the genuine benefits in these medicines are often anecdotal; people would refer to some prominent personality who used a particular local herb for some complicated ailment without the need for Western medicines. Many times, this is not proven and it is tough to find a second person of prominence who used the same product with similar success.
Since the last decade of the last century, however, we have seen traditional medical practitioners seeking to incorporate modern diagnostic practices into their work in an effort to get better results. It is almost impossible to see how that can work without some degree of formal training which they sorely lack. They would request for X-rays and ultrasound scans but in the end, it is often to reinforce the sometimes deceptive traditions in which many of the practitioners are steep. It would pay more to have formal education first before using this knowledge of traditional medicine practices to improve their practice.
The Americans and the French have long recognised this need and have moved to actualise it. In the UK and elsewhere in Europe, this swing was less well established but there has been definite movement in that direction as well in the last two decades.
When certain basic principles do not guide any practice, chicanery and even sorcery become the companions of what is often passed on as professional practice. Facts which are unverifiable and results which are not reproducible in other circumstances other than the proponent’s cannot stand the level of informed scrutiny designed to pass it off as safe. Here then is the current dilemma facing alternative medicine practice in Nigeria today.
Ask the doctor
Dear doctor, I am 32 years old and I want to ask you if there is anything I can use to increase the size of my breast. I notice that it is becoming smaller and I am still single. Thank you sir. 0705xxxxxxx
Good day. Similar questions have been asked on this page over the last five years and the answer is essentially the same. Perhaps, you are the one who thinks that your breasts are reducing in size. What you need to do at your age is to settle down quickly, get pregnant and watch your breasts grow in size as you feed your newborn babies one after the other. Certain medications have been advertised again and again in different forums but they are certainly harmful and I would not advise that you try any of them.
Dear doctor, I am a lady of 24 years and still a virgin. For over a week now my fiancé has been trying to break my virginity but he couldn’t get his way. I am really worried doctor. Please what can I do? 0814xxxxxxx
That is not strictly a health issue. I believe that if you want to retain your virginity, you must avoid playing certain games so as to avoid getting into trouble. To that extent, whether you want to allow him to do it or not, has to be your choice which at 24 years you are perfectly capable of deciding on.
Dear doctor, thank you so much doctor for the advice you have given me in the past. Please, the man I am dating now is suffering from weak erection. Is there any drug you can prescribe for him? Right now, he is planning to see a doctor, but we do not enjoy sex at all. I would want to know if there is a drug to improve his erection or he should see a doctor. Please we love each other so much. 0803xxxxxxx
Thank you very much as well. I would rather not prescribe any medication for him here but advice that you encourage him to see his doctor. By so doing, he will get to be properly examined and any underlying cause for his problem can then be identified and dealt with. Sometimes, that is all you need to get the results you want in a situation such as this.
Dear doctor, in fact you are a blessing to Nigerians. Please my penis used to be very strong before and straight. But now, when my penis is strong it will point downwards and form a sort of letter U as if it is deformed internally. Please doctor, I need your help. 0802xxxxxxx
Thank you very much for your kind words. I am almost certain that you penis has probably suffered from some kind of injury which you probably did not think much about. To form the shape you described is a bit odd. I would suggest that you see a urological surgeon for a thorough examination in order to deal with this problem. Best wishes.
Dear doctor, good day sir. I got your number in SUNDAY PUNCH. I have a skin infection called “skin writing” for five years now. Whenever I scratch any part of my body, it will become reddish and swell up like I have been flogged with a broom. I beg you in the name of God, advise me on what to do sir. God bless. 0708xxxxxxx
The features you described are called various names such as geographism, urticaria, weals and so on. They are features of some types of allergic reaction which is not necessarily a disease condition but a certain status which sees the person who has it reacting very strongly to certain things around them with those skin patterns. It is something which will come and go in response to whatever might be provoking it. It could be certain types of meat, sea foods, drugs, certain types of flowers and other plants and food substances as common as groundnuts. Beans too is a culprit as well as pineapple. What you must do first of all is to try to determine with great care what substances often provoke you to react in such a manner. When you are able to do, half the problem is solved. The next thing to do is what remedies are available to you when your skin reacts in that manner. You will have to see your doctor for that specific prescription based on what he knows about you.
Dear doctor, I am a 52-year-old woman with a big keloid on my chest between my breasts. I am no longer comfortable with the growth especially because it itches me so much. It also seems to be growing bigger. I have seen a doctor who told me that he would remove it. Doctor, I have done four operations in my lifetime; one for fibroids, two for delivery and one for appendicitis. I have even done one in my mouth, making five. Must I undergo a sixth one sir? Please advise me. 0703xxxxxxx
Well, an outright removal through an operation may not be the best course to take if it is indeed a keloid. Depending on its size, the mass may be made smaller and softer by a particular injection mixed in a particular way and delivered into the keloid.
By so doing, the chances of it recurring are greatly minimised but a straight forward removal could provoke an even bigger one forming. I would advice that you consult a plastic surgeon for their advice in order to avail yourself of the best possible advice available. As for the number of operations you have undergone, do not fret about that. Operations are increasingly safer and they are necessary to correct certain disease conditions. In the end, you are expected to be made more comfortable by having had such an operation.
Dear doctor, is it true that when a newborn baby yawns it is because the baby wants to fall sick? My baby is three weeks old and yawns a lot which my mother in-law keeps saying is because he wants to be sick. Is it true sir? 0705xxxxxxx
There is no truth in it. Newborn babies sleep a lot and feed when they are awake. They will yawn just like other people will yawn when they have slept rather well or when they want to sleep.
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