By Kanjal Godshield
There are growing concerns by residents of Calabar, the Cross River State capital, over the upsurge of ‘miracle’ herbal medicine dealers, who have taken over major streets of the metropolis.
The traditional drugs dealers might have fled neighbouring Akwa Ibom State into Cross River following that state’s ban on the sale of unregistered drugs and other related food products.
Last year, the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health placed a ban on the sale, hawking, and advertisement of unregulated food and drugs preparations throughout the state.
The Ministry directed that sales, hawking, advertisement and distribution of such products, either in buses, vans, streets or whatever means, be stopped forthwith.
The directive was contained in a press statement issued in Uyo, the state capital and signed by the Director of Pharmaceutical Services in the Ministry, Mary Ukponguso, on behalf of the Commissioner of Health, Dominic Ukpong.
The drugs, which the sellers claim provide solutions or instant cure for different types of diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, malaria, typhoid fever, infertility, cancer, fibroid and pile, are sold mostly on busy streets.
The Health Ministry had hinged its ban on the argument that the traditional medicines were not scientifically tested and approved by relevant regulatory authorities.
But after their disappearance from the streets of Akwa Ibom, the “miracle” medicine dealers resurfaced in Calabar.
Currently, they have taken up spaces in the Watt Market, Calabar Road, Goldie, Bedwell, and Ekpo Abasi streets.
In Calabar, the medicine men have devised various tricks including hiring crowd as soon as they display their products on the ground.
With people milling around the displayed products, passers by are attracted to go have a look and possibly buy the “miracle” drugs.
As more people gather, the herbalists begin to reel out the various diseases their concoctions can cure including some of the hard-to-cure diseases like cancer, fibroid and ulcer.
This reporter witnessed how one of the herbalists experimented with a “miracle” eye formula.
The herbalists randomly selected an individual who claimed to have an eye problem and offered to treat the patient free of charge.
After causing the patient to step out of the crowd, the herbalist squeezed some leaves and dropped the liquid into the man’s eyes.
Not long after, a worm-like object was removed from the patient’s eyes and the crowd burst into wild jubilation.
With the seemingly successful demonstration, many of the onlookers surged forward and paid for the concoction.
But a Calabar resident, Favour Okon, said she is worried about the development and called on the government to sensitize the public on the consumption of unregistered drugs.
“How can one medicine cure all the sicknesses in the world? The government should urgently check the activities of these traditional medicine dealers before they cause a major problem,” Mrs. Okon said.
Another resident, Jeniffer Akpana, who patronized the “miracle” drugs, said with the economic downturn in the country, traditional medicine had become an alternative to pharmaceutical products.
She, however, explained that traditional medicine had existed for ages and should not be abandoned for pharmaceutical products saying herbs cure some ailments orthodox medicines do not.
“I bought these drugs because I grew up in the village, (Akpabuyo) and there, it is herbal medicine we know and it is effective. I tried taking the English drugs when I was sick with malaria, but it didn’t work and so I resorted to herbs and there was instant cure,” she said.
“During the days of our forefathers, this herb is what they took anytime they were sick and that is why we shouldn’t condemn it.
“Besides, the present economic situation in the country has affected low income earners like me. I work as a cleaner for a private firm and I earn 8,000 naira in a month. That is why I do not patronize the pharmacy or patent medicine stores,” she said
However, the Cross River State Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Ekpenyong Effiong, said the increase in the number of herbal medicine hawkers in Calabar is a cause for concern.
Mr. Effiong said his organization is putting some measures in place to end the indiscriminate sale of unregistered products in the state.
Although the Nigerian laws have made provisions for the use of various kinds of medicines including herbal products, he nevertheless stated that the laws specify that such medicines must be registered by relevant regularity bodies.
Mr. Effiong noted that most of the herbal products sold by the hawkers were not standardized and should not be administered on people.
“Whenever I pass through Watt Market, I see people selling magic medicines that claim to cure every sickness in the world. I wonder how they (herbalists) discovered those medicines,” he said.
“Some of these herbal medicines are not standardized and are not well processed. They do not go through quality assurance control during production.
“Every drug must have dosage and if a particular dose is not properly stated on the container for the patient to read and follow the guidelines, it becomes poisonous or harmful to the body.
“The regulatory bodies are working hard to address this issue of hawking of herbal medicine in the state,” he said.
Responding to the development, the state Commissioner for Health, Inyang Asibong, explained that the government was aware of the increasing number of herbalists in the state.
Mrs. Asibong said the government was taking steps to push the herbalists and their “miracle” drugs off the streets.
“We are taking steps to ensure that only duly registered products by the National Agency for Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, are allowed for sale to the public,” she said.
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