NAIROBI, KENYA: A worrisome number of pregnant women in Nairobi are using herbal treatments even as they attend formal maternal clinics.

Carol Mamothena Mothupi, a researcher at Moi University's School of Public Health, followed more than 300 women attending maternal clinic at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi and found high use of herbal treatment in the group.

The women are largely getting most of these herbs in the market and use them alongside conventional medicines, which according to Ms Mothupi is dangerous for their health as well as that of their young or unborn children.

Even more disturbing, she says, is that most of them are not telling their doctors of their use of herbs, and out of those who did, only one was advised on the dangers of mixing medicines. Others who did so report that their doctors were just indifferent.

The women, the study says, used herbal medicine for back pain, toothache, indigestion and infectious diseases such as respiratory tract infections and malaria.

However, they were also found to use the herbs for pregnancy related conditions such as swollen feet, back pain and digestive problems.

The findings seemed to surprise the researcher that urban women who had good access to a major health facility such as Mbagathi were also using herbal treatments. Women who were more likely to use herbs were those with least education or none at all.

Ms Mothupi says the biggest reason why the women are turning to herbs is the belief that Western medicine is not working.

Other reasons were that herbs are more affordable advice from family and lack of drugs at the hospital. The women were of the strong opinion that it was safe to use them during pregnancy.

Forty per cent of the women said they have ever used herbal treatments, indicating there is heavy use of these products even in urban areas and there is need for policies to regulate the sector and make them safer for users.

"We are in the final stages of drafting a Bill which proposes to remove quacks and make them safe to use without necessarily making them too expensive," says Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

This report comes less than a month after another survey showed almost all parents with cancer children attending Eldoret's Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) had them on herbal treatments.