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Prof Nyarkotey champions traditional medicine legislation in Gambia

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Despite the tedious nature of the Bar Professional Course at the Law School, Professor Raphael Nyarkotey Obu – a Ghanaian Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, who is currently a Bar student at the Gambia Law School, Banjul – has proven that he is a scholar, an advocate and a change-maker by publishing an important legal commentary titled ‘The Need for Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine Legislation in The Gambia’ in the Asian Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. He is now a strong advocate of traditional medicine legislation in The Gambia.

Prof. Nyarkotey, the man known for his articles in the country and abroad, gained admission to the Gambia Law School in 2022 to study the Bar professional course to become a legal practitioner.

Speaking to the B&FT, he said he had wanted to remain quiet to study in The Gambia but found some pressing issues that needed public attention to improve their health sector. He believes that the purpose of legal training is to help solve societal problems and this is exactly what “I am doing to help traditional healers to get legislation”. Besides, “my legal studies aim to become a medical lawyer to solve these issues. My future goal is to specialise in the legal aspect of traditional and alternative healthcare to help address the numerous challenges in this area of healthcare and push for medical pluralism everywhere I find myself”, he said.

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Prof Nyarkotey’s passion for changing the face of traditional and alternative medicine in Africa could not let him sit alone to see the plight of the traditional healers in The Gambia. He was touched to now help the traditional healers to help push for their aim of Traditional Medicine Legislation in The Gambia. He petitioned the Minister of Health in the Gambia this year to help facilitate The legislation of traditional medicine in The Gambia. He is happy that his scientific writings on natural remedies have received huge media awareness and public interest in the Gambia.

He has been working with the traditional healers in The Gambia to help change the negative image in their industry. This is unprecedented in the Bar Professional Course to see a student supporting a social course in The Gambia.

Prof. Nyarkotey, who is also the president, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine in Ghana, has granted scholarship opportunities to 10 Gambian traditional healers who are members of the National Traditional Healers Association of The Gambia (TRAHASS).

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The scholarship package, worth US$10,000, will help the practitioners to pursue their academic programmes in Naturopathic Medicine at his established naturopathic medical school in Ghana. The Professor also plans to provide scholarships to young ones interested in pursuing Higher National Diploma (HND) and Bachelor’s degree programmes in Naturopathic Medicine in Ghana.

The Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine and Technology is Ghana’s first naturopathic and holistic medicine college, registered under the Commission for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (CTVET), Ghana, and recognised by the Traditional Medicine Practice Council, Ministry of Health, Ghana. The college is also an educational member of the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF), Canada. The college’s naturopathic programmes meet the WNF and World Health OrganiSation (WHO) benchmark for Naturopathic Medical Education.

The college is currently the only institution in Africa to develop the first-ever National Occupational Standard in Naturopathy and Holistic Medicine at the Higher National Diploma (HND) and Bachelor’s \xa0degree level under the Commission for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (CTVET).

Risk of unregulated profession

Professor Nyarkotey explained that in countries where regulation exists, the risk of traditional practices has been reported in the media space. What would therefore be the case for countries without legislation and regulation? He quoted studies that justified that babies delivered in an ‘unorthodox health centre’ had a significantly higher incidence of birth asphyxia than babies born in a hospital.

He also bemoans that traditional healers’ refusal to refer cases to mainstream facilities to seek standard medical treatment leads to a disaster. Based on several studies attesting to the fact that unregulated professions pose a public health risk, Prof. Nyarkotey emphasised that the Government of The Gambia should take interest in regulating traditional and complementary medicine practitioners. This is to prevent harm. Besides, this is grounded on the doctrine of natural medicine – do no harm! Moreover, it is the duty of the Gambian Government to protect the well-being of the citizenry regardless of whether the citizenry is subjectively content with the treatment that they are receiving.

He cited countries, such as China and India, are benefitting from traditional therapies due to effective regulation. Ghana has over 55 government hospitals with herbal medicine departments which have trained medical psychotherapists. The economy of Ghana and the healthcare space is benefitting from effective regulation of traditional and complementary therapies.

Also, in the present situation in The Gambia, without statutory provisions for practitioners, establishing standards may be difficult. For instance, some commentators held the view that self-regulation is meant for personal interest and not for the public good, and that organisations that engaged in self-regulation have a challenge in enforcement.

Hence, when government regulates, it is to further the public good. He explained how government regulations have impacted the standards in mainstream medical practice. We have seen the relevance of regulation in countries with traditional medical practice. They have national licensing standards, educational requirements and standards in the practice. Licensing of practitioners provides public confidence in any profession.

The business of traditional medicine

Prof. Nyarkotey also held that many opportunities are associated with legislative regulation. For instance, the global market for traditional therapies stood at more than US$ 60billion in the year 2000 and is steadily growing.

Reviewers call for legislation in The Gambia

One reviewer at the Bandung Islamic University, Indonesia, in his general comment, held that bearing in mind that the history of standard medicine is actually through empirical work from plants and based on experience and research on the active substance content, that is what Paracelsus (1541-1493 BC) did. Hippocrates (459-370 BC) used more than 200 types of plants in his medicine. We recommend following the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy.

The desire to have applicable legal regulations in the law on the practice of traditional medicine, complementary medicine, and alternative medicine is an essential wish for Parliament in The Gambia to implement.

The reviewer further commended Professor Nyarkotey for his positive thinking regarding traditional medicine legislation in The Gambia. “The author’s manuscript thinking is correct; I hope the idea will be implemented. The law will regulate Good Manufacturing Practices for quality control of materials for traditional medicinal ingredients to conduct evidence-based research. I agree with the author’s way of thinking.”

Another international reviewer of the legal paper states in his comment that the legal paper is a well-written argument/debate from the perspective of law. This needs to be carefully considered as it is related to the general public interest and health. A major debate is needed at the national level to discuss the issue.

The third reviewer at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, believes that Prof Nyarkotey’s legal commentary justifying legislation on traditional medicine in The Gambia is a very relevant and unexplored area.

Professor Nyarkotey has called on potential investors to take a look at the business potential in the natural medicine industry.

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