State should protect patients from lethal herbal concoctions

A cancer screening at the Mbagathi Hospital, Nairobi. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]
Non communicable diseases have been on the rise in recent years. Notable among them is cancer that is causing a lot of devastation especially among the low income earners who cannot afford the prohibitive cost of managing it. In any case, our public hospitals are not adequately equipped to handle such diseases.

Until the national government entered into the Sh38 billion managed hospital equipment scheme in 2015 and equipped two hospitals in each of the 47 counties with diagnostic machines, the strain was on Kenyatta National Hospital where the waiting list stretched to years. Many patients died before they could be attended to.

Even though the statistics around cancer are depressing enough, a new study conducted by Moi University and published in the Pan African Medical Journal on August 23, 2019 brings more gloom. Chronic kidney diseases (CKD) are equally on the rise. But unlike cancer that most people readily blame on lifestyle choices, CKD is being blamed, in part, on herbal medicines. Considering that at least two thirds of Kenyans depend on herbal medicines, there is real cause for alarm.

This dependence, in large measure caused by a dysfunctional health system that has put the cost of medical treatment beyond the reach of many, has resulted in a proliferation of herbalists. Unfortunately, a majority of these herbalists are unscrupulous quacks out to make the quick buck from desperate, unsuspecting Kenyans.

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In fact, it has not been a secret that some herbs are harmful. Kenya Medical Research Institute warned of prevalence of toxic herbs in the country last year. Curiously, the authorities have done nothing to to save Kenyans from danger.

Don’t get us wrong. We are not trying to demonise herbal medicine. The use of herbal medicine spans centuries. They are effective, in 2017 the Government even contemplated allowing their alongside conventional medicines in public hospitals.

However, greedy individuals posing as herbal doctors are putting patients’ lives at risk. Yet the masquerades are not only local. A lot of herbs, supposedly from China but whose real origin or efficacy cannot be vouched for, have been on sale locally. They are part of the problem.

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Not only are public awareness campaigns on the dangers of some herbal concotions an imperative at this moment, effort must be made to regulate herbalists. They should be licensed and have their herbs regularly tested for efficacy. Gambling with the lives of Kenyans is unacceptable.

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CancerChronic kidney diseasesHerbal medicines