1. Africa’s Health Economic Opportunity
Major pharmaceutical firms are making claims of breakthroughs in the discovery of COVID-19 vaccines/drugs about 8 months after the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020. As usual, the vaccines/drugs that ultimately receive the nod of the World Health Organization (WHO) will be mass-produce and distributed, and the successful firms rake in billions of dollars. However, one wonders what will happen to the earlier discovered Dr. Didier’s dual therapy (a combination of chloroquine and an antibiotic) which has been used successfully to treat many infected persons, especially when administered alongside plant-based foods and spices.
Interestingly also, Madagascar’s Organics and a plethora of herbal remedies came out barely weeks after the pandemic was declared and many of them are hawked commonly along the streets of nearly all Sub Saharan African (SSA) countries. That fewer deaths are consistently reported despite the region’s poor public healthcare preparedness, suggests substantial immunity for the COVID-19 infection among the African population, and it is likely that this has to do with consumption of plant-based diets and herbal remedies, and the widespread regular use of the dual therapy for treatment of malaria and typhoid fever in SSA.
The threat posed by COVID-19 is worrisome not just for the speed of its spread and number of deaths recorded within such a short time, but also because: (1) the reported infected/dead persons due to it are more in advanced countries where public healthcare emergency management is of top class standard; (2) the high mutative tendencies of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Coronaviruses (SARS-CoVs) family (where COVID-19 belong), render new strains transmitted to successive hosts biochemically different making it difficult for a vaccine to prevent a re-infection by future SARS-CoVs strains; and (3) the weird microbial identity of COVID-19 calling for more researches to determine if the contagion is indeed a virus, parasite, or bacteria. Classically, a viral infection should not be treated successfully with the dual therapy (a combination of anti-parasite and anti-bacteria).
Notwithstanding the findings that the researches suggested above may bring, it is evidenced that consuming plant-based diet and herbal supplements, like most traditional Africans do, is able to boost immunity for COVID-19 and other related diseases. Thus what Africans consume commonly and cheaply can be used to promote wellness globally, and the adversity that COVID-19 epitomizes is Africa’s opportunity to insert itself into the global supply chains of plant-based foods and herbal remedies, and health tourism. But the choice is ours; to take advantage of this opportunity, or let is pass by us like rain water falling on cassava plant and immediately after the leaves still look dry.
Accordingly, it is strongly recommended here that individuals, businesses, groups, and countries in Africa should support the continent to leapfrog to global reckon; this time not for indebtedness, wars and poverty, but for spearheading a wellness revolution, by doing the following: (1) propagate, produce, process and market immune boosting plant-based foods and herbal medicaments; and (2) effectively organize, invest in, and do market-making for health tourism niches around African Traditional Medicine (ATM). Without such coordinated efforts to innovate and grow the ATM sector, the scale economies therein will remain underutilized.
Many Africans experience the potency of ATM only when clinical therapies fail and they desperately revert to native doctors. Yet, the curative potency of ATM is widely accepted in Africa. There are cures in ATM for nearly all severe health problems, including insanity, diabetes, stroke, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, hypertension, and complex fractures. Oftentimes when clinical therapies fail, patients are withdrawn from hospitals to ATM healing homes and many who get there on time are treated and healed. Nonetheless, many Africans still minimize or relegate ATM healing remedies and very little is done to support, regulate and incentivize ATM practitioners. Most herbal and non-herbal materials for preparing ATM recipes are still collected from the wild, and the risk of losing them is high given the fast urbanization rate and the low interest of educated youths to join the sector. Equally, religious people, especially many Christians, equate ATM to Satanism.
Accordingly, the beginning point should be campaigning for a mindset shift among Africans, especially the educated ones, to accept ATM as a potent wellness offer to be used alongside other therapeutic approaches. Modernization should not amount to denial of traditional realities and alienation from our ancestral roots. It is needless arguing which is superior or inferior. ATM practices already exist and will continue to be relevant as long as it serves the wellness needs of people. Therefore, ensuring its inclusion into the formalized healthcare delivery system will bring the ATM practitioners to oversight and regulatory glare, connect them to support and incentives, and weed out abuses/misuses, fakery and quacks.
Therefore, using the opportunity created by the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals, firms and governments in Africa can collaboratively shift the healthcare paradigm from the pursuit of medicament sufficiency to wellness security built around dietary mixes high in plant-based materials, prevention of micronutrient malnutrition, and modernization of ATM. The backward linkages of this paradigmatic shift will be conservation of forest and non-forest ATM inputs, growth in organic-based innovative farming and processing, and the creation of health tourism niches. The forward linkages will be processing of herbal health supplements and plant-based foods, and their innovative marketing globally. So rather than do network marketing around Chinese, Indian or Indonesian herbal health supplements, we can proudly revert to African herbal health supplement. Yes, it is possible! By so doing, the local ATM practitioners and plant-based food producers and processors will leapfrog to the global wellness products’ supply chains.
2. The Alchemy of ATM
What distinguishes ATM from mainstream clinical therapeutic approaches, and makes its inclusion into the formalized healthcare delivery mix necessary, is the perspective that manifest ailments have spiritual/metaphysical origins. Typically, it is held in ATM that ailments, misfortunes, and other abnormal occurrences do not happen randomly but are the results of perturbation of some spiritual balance. So while clinical therapies focus on the manifest or objective diseases presumably caused by germs, substance abuse/misuse, organ weakness, accidents, etc., ATM identifies with the underlying subjective reality (or spirits) behind the objective reality (malfunction or disease). The spiritual balance can be perturbed by sorcery, witchcraft, breach of taboo, cheating, spirit intrusions and transferences, disobedience, parental/ancestral curses, invocation of marine spirits and/or ghosts of the dead, and acts of gods. Once the perturbing factor is identified, and the subjective reality of the disease handled, the manifest ailment can be treated with herbal and dietary supplements, and even with regular pharmaceutical drugs.
Accordingly, ATM practices are in sync with classical physics. Newton’s 1st Law of Motion (that is, matter remains in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line except an external factor causes it to do otherwise) is respected by the principle that diseases do not occur randomly. In other words, germs attack, accidents, natural disasters, etc. do not just happen; they commonly serve agency roles to ensure the restoration of perturbed balances caused knowingly or unknowingly. The founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, puts it differently in his natural law philosophy, that there is a natural order in place controlled and regulated by an Invisible Hand which itself is invincible. All that humans need to do is flow with the invincible natural order. When we knowingly or unknowingly fail to do so, nature sends agents of suffering (like germs attack, natural disasters, accidents, organ failures, cancers, etc.) as quintessential teachers to whip us back into line. Hence, dealing effectively and sustainably with any ailment require restoring the hedges and as well treating the manifest ailment. Without the hedges restored, the problem may reoccur even after the manifest malfunction is treated, or come back as other ailments in line with the Law of Conservation of Mass (that is, energy is neither created now destroyed… but can be transformed from one form to another). Equally, Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (that is, for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction) applies in ATM because a return to normalcy is achieved sustainably when both the manifest ailment and the broken spiritual hedges are treated/repaired simultaneously, as the equally reaction counteracting the force that caused the ailment.
ATM is as well consistent with quantum physics. Basically in quantum physics, material forms or manifestation are decomposable into invisible quanta-particles, light-energy fields, consciousness or spirits. Accordingly, ATM sees manifest ailments (material reality) as basically reducible to unseen (non-finite) spirits. Oftentimes, the corrective spiritual actions include prayers/incantations, libation, sacrifices, or restitution. Understandably conventional medical practitioners may find it hard to comprehend how and why, for example, a sick person can receive healing for chronic cardiovascular condition after prayers/incantations are offered. The reality is that it is commonplace in ATM, and it works! Interestingly, efforts are ongoing to mainstream quantum physics into conventional medicine; what our ancestors were able to reconcile long ago! Also, while most conventional medical doctors label ATM as fetish, superstitious and unhygienic, an increasing number of ATM practitioners are reaching out to incorporate x-ray, laboratory test, ultra-scan, etc., to help deal effectively with the physical/manifest ailments. Equally, many ATM practitioners add apple cider vinegar, baking soda, etc., and manufactured drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to their recipes. These confirm that linkages and synergies of ATM with conventional medicine can be formalized for the benefit of Africans and the rest of the world.
Furthermore, ATM remedies are relatively cheaper and broadly beneficial to the users beyond treating particular ailments. A single herbal mixture can prevent micronutrient malnutrition (thus promoting overall wellness) in addition to treating a particular ailment, just as invocation/prayer can reconcile us with our progenitors, and as well protect our offspring from present and future misfortunes. It is important to note as well that the spiritual aspects of ATM are not limited by time and space. For instance, it is possible to stay in Cameroon and successfully implement an assignment/ritual for someone in the United States, Europe or Russia.
3. Including ATM in the Wellness Mix
Synergizing ATM practices and conventional clinical therapies will be highly beneficial to the overall wellness pursuit in African countries and elsewhere. But achieving such a marriage will require the following actions, among others:
- Organize the ATM sector into local associations (or basic communities of practice) at the grass root level, and set up connective regional networks and national federations of practitioners. This will ease information exchanges, promote cross-learning, and create platforms that connect the grass root practitioners to financial and equipment support, training, and markets.
- Sponsor researches to profile traditional foods (and their micronutrient content), and spiritual practices (invocations, prayers, rituals, assignments, etc.) and their significance. We have to use science to understand and improve upon what our ancestors did without losing their primary traditional essence.
- Our forest resources should be profiled. The task of identifying, naming, and investigating the usefulness of our forest resources should be ongoing. At the same time, incentives should be provided for young Africans to join the ATM sector early, without their education and wellbeing being compromised.
- The non-health ATM practices should be explored as well. For instance, genuine diviners, prophets, seers, rain-makers, and fortune-tellers are commonplace in many African societies. Instances exist where police authorities collaborate with ATM practitioners to extract confessional statements from suspected criminals. Also people use charms to protect themselves from gunshots and other mishaps. Several other supernatural application of ATM are commonplace in many African countries. What is urgently needed now is to identify and understand them, and use them to solve individual and societal problems without jeopardizing the wellbeing of others.
4. Moving Forward
At the individual/family level, it is important that available physical spaces are used to cultivate immune boosting vegetables and spices. At the level of the civil society, advocacy for the necessary health sector reforms to formalize and synergize ATM with clinical therapies should be intensified. Ultimately, African hospitals should have sections for ATM so that its practitioners function alongside conventional physicians, having in mind that the overall wellness of people is our ultimate goal. At the national level, African governments should organize the ATM sector appropriately and support innovative researches. At the regional/continental level, the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union (AU), and trans-African private businesses should prioritize investment in the ATM sector alongside promoting cross-country/cultural learning.
Lastly, the WHO should set up protocols for verifying/certifying ATM products, while taking into account the contextual and philosophical underpinning of ATM. Doing so will promote the overall wellness of Africans and the people of other regions. Arguments around the ethical differences between ATM and conventional medicine should be treated as one-hand-clapping since as noted here the two are unparalleled and objectively incomparable. However, since both are able to provide healing under several conditions, despite their differences, they can complement each other to achieve overall improvement in wellness, which ought to be our ultimate goal. Hence it is wisdom not to deny or minimize the existence and potency of ATM.
Prof. Essia is currently Technical Adviser on Projects, Programs and Fundraising at the General Secretariat of the International Association Pan African Institute for Development (PAID) Yaoundé, Cameroon. However, the views expressed here are his, and does not represent the official position of PAID. This article is extracted from a previous one: Essia U. (2020) COVID-19 Recovery Efforts and Imperatives for Development Sustainability in Africa DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15738.52168 June.