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Liberia: House of Representatives calls for Tightened Regulation on Traditional Medicines

An array of Health and Traditional officials appeared before Plenary of the House of Representatives to address the proliferation of Traditional healers who are claiming to have cure for all diseases

Monrovia – The House of Representatives has mandated the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs, and the Traditional Council of Liberia to regulate the widespread use of traditional medicines in the country.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

The House, through its plenary, gave the mandate on Tuesday, June 18 in its 39th day sitting following the appearance of the Ministry of Health represented by Chief Medical Doctor, Dr. Francis Kateh and the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia headed by Chief Zanzan Karwar.

The Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC) was represented by its Registrar-General, Dr. Moses G. Pewu, while the Division of Complementary Medicines was represented by its head.

They were cited by plenary based on a communication from Rep. Joseph Matthews seeking plenary’s acquiescence to invite the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs and other relevant bodies to address the proliferation of ‘so-called’ traditional healers claiming to have a cure for all forms of diseases.

Residents of Monrovia and its environs, of recent, have been accustomed to listening to the advertisements of the efficacy of these herbalists’ medicines and healing powers on various radio and television stations.

In these messages, some of the herbalists claim to have the power to cure all kinds of sicknesses including life-threatening diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. 

Others such as ‘Dr. Stroke’ and ‘Baba Baby’ claimed to have the ability to cure stroke (hypertension), impotency and bareness, as well as to give good luck charm to people seeking marriage, employment, and travel opportunities.

During the deliberations, plenary queried the health and traditional officials to give details account of the measures put in place to regulate these herbalists including issues surrounding the issuance of licenses and operational permits since most of these traditional healers are foreigners.

Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis N. Kateh addressing plenary of the House of Representatives, stressed the importance of herbal treatment or traditional medicine but call for its regulation

Dr. Kateh explained that most of the practices of these traditional herbalists are illegal and their actions have claimed the attention of the Ministry of Health, who is working out plans to collaborate with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and key parties to address them.

According to Dr. Kateh, contrary to widespread advertisements of these traditional herbalists’ activities on radio and television stations, the medical law of Liberia prohibits such practice.

He said the LMDC has the authority to issue licenses to all medical practitioners, while the act creating the Division of Complementary Medicines gave it regulatory authorities over all herbalists.

He, however, mentioned that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Traditional Council of Chiefs & Elders also regulate the traditional healers.

He noted that although the Ministry believes in the efficacy of traditional medicines, there is a need to regulate their usage.

LMDC Registrar-General, Dr. Moses G. Pewu also noted that there is a need to review the laws that give regulatory responsibilities to multiple institutions over complementary medicines as it is currently causing confusion in the sector.

The Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Karwor noted that the proliferation of traditional doctors in the country has caught the attention of the council, and as such plans are underway to begin reviewing all of their licenses, especially foreigners who are claiming to have the “solution to all health problems.”

Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf said he could not appear because he was on national duty in rural Liberia.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers expressed disappointment over the failure of the Ministry of Health and the sub-bodies to regulate traditional medicine.

They voted in favor of a motion filed by Rep. Clarence Massaquoi, mandating Ministries to collaborate and derive at a harmonized regulatory plan and report back within one month.

Herbal treatment or traditional medicine is popular amongst Liberians especially in rural communities but there are concerns about some health ramifications associated with the use of herbs.

The lawmakers are adamant of its proper regulations as they believe the proliferation of unregulated herbal medicines and traditional healers pose a serious health risk to the entire population.