The Ministry of Health has formally invited traditional healers to treat cancer patients in its new five-year strategy.
The recent presidential assent to the Health Act 2017 and its gazettement effectively ushered traditional healers into the country’s formal healthcare system.
In its 2017-2022 cancer strategy launched last Friday, the ministry said it would educate health workers and communities on the availability of alternative cancer treatments.
The ministry also said it would streamline alternative healthcare practices in the country, including regulation and management.
This is the latest in a series of events showing that finally, alternative, herbal and traditional medicines are being incorporated into formal healthcare.
On June 21, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Health Act 2017, which was subsequently gazetted on June 30.
This is a major development in the history of the country’s healthcare sector and will see conventional doctors co-operate with their counterparts in alternative health practice.
The law directs the Ministry of Health to develop guidelines to facilitate the cross-referral of patients between conventional and traditional healthcare practitioners.
“The ministry may also prescribe regulations for connected purposes which shall be implemented by country governments,” states the act.
The new act also directs Parliament to establish a regulatory body to manage the practice of traditional and alternative medicine.
Already, a private bill, The Traditional Health Practitioners Bill 2014, sponsored by Kitui South MP Rachel Nyamai, is waiting for the first reading in the National Assembly.
Another bill, The Traditional Herbal Medicine and Medicinal Plants Bill 2014, which is more likely to win the day because of its wider backing, is also ready for presentation in Parliament.
A major similarity in the two drafts is the suggested heavy representation of Government officials in the proposed national council to manage a reorganised alternative medicine sector.
These developments are the culmination of efforts suggested in 2002 by Sam Ongeri, the Minister for Health at the time. Prof Ongeri had suggested that traditional healers should be incorporated in the national healthcare system.
The suggestion was strongly opposed by conventional doctors.
“Our position is that only properly researched drugs with proven medicinal value should be incorporated into evidence-based practice and provided in our public hospitals,” wrote James Nyikal, who was the national chairman of the Kenya Medical Association.
Shortly after, Dr Nyikal was appointed the director of medical services.
In February, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) presented evidence vindicating the use of some local herbs in treating cancer.
At an annual science conference, Kemri researchers presented evidence showing more than 20 locally available plants, most already being used by herbalists, have the capacity to treat cancer.
“We shall create awareness among healthcare providers and the community on other available options including conventional, complementary and alternative medicines,” says the new cancer strategy document.
An earlier World Bank survey titled “The Contribution of Traditional Herbal Medicine Practitioners to Kenyan Health Care Delivery” shows the alternative medicine sector in Kenya could bring on board about 40,000 additional practitioners and ease the current staff shortage.