Finding African Solutions for African Issues
Unless we as Africans begin to determine how our traditional medicines are developed, produced and distributed, we will never be in a position to ensure sustainable access to safe and affordable life-saving medication.
This is according to Dr Obi Adigwe, CEO/Director-General for the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) in Nigeria, who was speaking at the signing in Durban of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the NIPRD and the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) based at UKZN.
The MoU, signed by UKZN Registrar Dr Kathlyn Cleland and Adigwe, focuses on promoting research and development, including human capital development and community engagement, in the Traditional Medicine Value Chain. The initiative provides opportunities for Traditional Healthcare Practitioners and other stakeholders, including women, youth and the private sector from the two countries and Africa at large, to participate actively in the African Traditional Medicine Pharmaceutical Value, for job creation and income generation.
Adigwe, who has pioneered several innovative research and development projects, said the Medicines’ Security Concept had been conceptualised over almost a decade. ‘Embedded in the Medicines’ Security Concept are social economic indicators that align with local manufacturing and local development resources.’
Adigwe said that long before the COVID-19 pandemic, many stakeholders felt it was more economically viable to manufacture in Europe and Asia and use sophisticated logistics formulas to bring those products to Africa. ‘For a long time, we were on the back foot. But, it didn’t stop us from being strong proponents of Medicine Security. COVID-19 has now shown everybody that we were right, and they were wrong.’
He emphasised the importance of job creation, capacity building, knowledge transfer and revenue generation for African healthcare practitioners and government.
‘As people, we must not abdicate the responsibility for providing healthcare for our people to people outside this continent.’
Adigwe underscored that the agreement was for the whole of Africa. ‘As you well know, if Nigeria and South Africa are on the same page on one issue, the other 52 African countries will align.
‘This agreement signifies the emergence of new African scientists and academics who recognise the artificial barriers that have kept us where we have been for decades and centuries… Africa is watching and Africa is waiting.’
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, highlighted the importance of shared values and sustainable projects in the knowledge environment. ‘The collaboration will harness the greatness Africa has to offer in research and development, with the embodiment of the continent’s rich and diverse indigenous cultures,’ said Mkhize.
‘At the heart of this collaboration - the first of its kind - is our belief that solutions for African healthcare challenges should be based on the willingness and commitment of African people and communities, to promote, preserve and protect their local knowledge systems,’ he said.
Echoing the sentiments of Adigwe, Mkhize said: ‘The signing of this MoU happens at a time when global challenges such as COVID-19, have shown us that Western knowledge systems do not have all the solutions to mitigate the problems we encounter in a world characterised by cultural and ecological diversity.’
Head of International and Governance Relations for eThekwini Municipality, Mr Eric Apelgren, congratulated the two partnering institutions and offered the ‘commitment and support’ of the city of Durban for the African continental project.
The provincial Department of Health’s Mr Brian Shezi, welcomed the collaboration and noted the importance of African traditional medicine and its interactions with Western medicine.
The Honourable Inkosi BF Bhengu delivered a message of support on behalf of eThekwini’s Local House of Traditional Leadership, saying that in spite of the fact that a ‘large proportion of African people still depend on their culturally specific traditional medicine and healing systems for healthcare and wellness, these systems of healthcare and their associated indigenous knowledge systems have over the years been marginalised in the official public healthcare systems.’
The Inkosi highlighted the continual exploitation of the ‘rich diversity of African traditional medicine resources and knowledge systems from our local communities for the benefit of outsiders’. He welcomed the collaboration across countries and noted that the initiative is ‘for the benefit of all Africa.’
Trade & Investment KwaZulu-Natal’s Mr Claude Pretorius delivered a message of support and underscored the importance of partnerships for enabling growth.
The Honourable Minister of State of Health Senator Dr Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora was represented by Mrs Stella Olubunmi Aribeana of the country’s Department of Food and Drugs Services (DFDS), Federal Ministry of Health. Aribeana assured UKZN of the Nigerian federal government’s support in the full implementation of the initiative.
Aribeana applauded the MoU which would see the ‘harnessing of African indigenous natural resources and traditional medicines’ in particular, and encouraged the setting-up of a joint technical working team to ensure that the objectives and goals are met.
Director of CIKS Professor Hassan Kaya underscored the importance of discussions between traditional healers and the team from Nigeria. ‘The most important thing is how we improve the quality of life of our people who are still selling things on the floor. How do we help them to improve their quality of life through the value chain?’ asked Kaya.
In closing, he said: ‘We don’t have to dwell on our differences, let’s dwell on what brings us together.’
The delegation from Nigeria was treated to a tour of Durban including the Warwick Traditional Medicine Market, the medicinal plant nursery at Silverglen Nature Reserve and UKZN’s Medical School.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer
Photograph: Albert Hirasen