Iwu: Alternative medicine as antidote to recession

Professor Maurice Iwu is a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but the professor of pharmacognosy has since reinvented himself as a leading voice in alternative medicine with direct efforts targeted at slicing a huge chunk of its global $100 billion market share to tackle Nigeria’s recession, writes Taiwo Adisa.

The global alternative medicine market is worth more than $100 billion and countries like India and China are leading the pack in cutting a good percentage of that sum for their benefits. Nigeria boasts a variety of voices in that sector but the multifaceted knowledge about natural medicine has failed to help the people either in terms of medical practice or economic benefits. Issues of standardisation and dearth of empirical certification of efficacy claims have also not helped the trade. That is notwithstanding the widespread claims of efficacy any practitioner would easily hand out at any stop across the geopolitical zones.

Issues related to the above were practically laid bare a fortnight ago when Professor Maurice Iwu, the proprietor of Imo state-based Bio-Resources Institute and other experts converged in Owerri, Imo state, to dissect issues obstructing Nigeria’s assumption of leadership role in the global herbal market.

The conference, tagged HerbFest 2016 featured the theme “Food As Medicine: African Herbs And Spices As Functional Foods And Nutraceuticals.”

Ahead of the resumption of fireworks by the experts at the conference hall, conferees, political heavyweights and Alternative Medicine enthusiasts made a stopover at Umunna, where they were joined by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and top functionaries of Imo State Government to commission Professor Iwu’s Bio-Resources Institute of Nigeria, an arm of Bio resources Development Group premiered by Iwu. The institute also promotes subsidiaries with different specialisations in the field of alternative medicine including Nature’s Emporium, InterCEDD Laboratories, Bio-resources Development and Conservations Programme, InterCEDD Health Products and BioTrade Global Agency. The institute is described as the first of its kind in the Eastern heartland of the country.

It was also the first time Herbfest would be held outside Lagos and Abuja since it started off in October 2011.

Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Onu at the commissioning of the institute expressed surprise that Iwu had gone far ahead of everyone by not only investing billions of naira in the trade aimed at promoting alternative medicine but also at the sophistication applied in building the structures which had the walls specially treated with epoxy paint to prevent any sort of bacteria from developing on the wall and guarantee that products from the facility meet world standard.

Other bigwigs at the event included Governor Rochas Okorocha (represented by his deputy, Prince Eze Madumere), Professor Hassan El Subki Khalid from the University of Khartoum, Sudan and Professor Karniyus Gamaniel from the University of Maiduguri.

Also on hand  for the Herbal festival and commissioning were the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha; President, National Association of Nigeria Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP), HRH Prof. T.O. Omon Oleabhiele and Director General of Projects Development Institute (PRODA), Engr. Dr. Charles Agulanna.

Governor Okorocha, at the event, described the establishment of the institute as a right step in the right direction, adding that it was an answer to the call by the state government on indigenes to look homewards in making investment decision.

Dr. Onu also praised the ingenuity of Iwu in championing the quest for excellence in home grown products especially at this time of recession adding that the institute would satisfy the hunger for herbal tea and products. According to him, the time has come for Nigerians to desist from over-dependence on imported herbal products as he insisted that with Iwu’s pioneering efforts, Nigerians are showcasing readiness to improve capacity in that sector.

Other speakers at the ceremony recognised what they called the modest efforts being made by Prof. Iwu and his team in their desire to transform the understanding and consumption of herbal medicines in Nigeria. Many are of the view that such efforts could drive the development of the health care sector in the country as well as enhance the Nigerian economy while propelling the capacity to diversify sources of foreign exchange earnings.

The establishment of Bio-Resources Institute at Umunna in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State is a step towards giving act to theories being espoused year after year at HerbFest series, the Director of InterCEDD said, adding that the effect of such an establishment will be more visible when farmers begin to harvest their medicinal plants for profit.

Professor Iwu told the multifaceted audience that he had always believed that “If you don’t make food your medicine, you will end up making medicine your food,” adding that the initiative in Imo would not only boost health capacity but business as the Institute would rely on the local  herbs medicinal plants 100 percent.

“Based on our current raw materials, production and marketing needs, this facility will create jobs and alleviate rural poverty not only in Imo State but in many parts of the country. We currently have organic farms in Benue State, Abuja and Enugu State. We are negotiating to establish collaborative out-sourced farms in Imo, Delta and Abia states,” he said.

The professor who has been engaged in pharmacognosy since 1978 had earlier entered the herbal medical line with bio-medicines and herbal developments.

His research efforts had also yielded six herbal drinks which are said to play different roles in rejuvenating the human body.

Iwu stated that following the establishment of his first research centre, the InterCEDD in Nsukka in 1995, the current effort will concentrate energy in seeking local and international collaborations in the area of herbal and plant research.

“The facility is equipped to process vegetable raw materials, from non-destructive drying of fresh farm products, through selective solvent extraction and reconversion to powdered materials, to the production of medicinal teas, oral liquid preparations and cosmetics,” he stated.

He expressed regret over dearth of institutional support for such efforts in the country saying:  “It is our understanding that this is perhaps the only Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) grade bio-processing facility in the country. This is not surprising given the extreme difficulty encountered in raising funds for technological projects with long maturation period, the dearth of technicians with practical knowledge on phytochemical processing and the tedious procedure involved in the importation of scientific and manufacturing equipment into the country.”

Iwu had recently been honoured as Africa’s foremost pharmacognocist by the Association of Lady Pharmacists for his role in the promotion and development of tropical medicine.

Back at the Herbfest 2016 conference in Owerri, participants continued with tradition established over the years and recommended a number of measures to boost local production of drugs and herbal research.

The researchers stated in their communique that the “ethnobotanical surveys going on in Nigeria should be encouraged, supported and funded” and that “all the relevant research centres and agencies involved in the development of natural products should be adequately funded by government to carry out their mandate effectively.”

The conference also asked that Nigerians should be encouraged to patronize made in Nigeria herbal products and services, while recognising the need to synergise, collaborate and harmonise scientific studies on herbal medicines to improve on our global competitiveness. The professionals also recommended that “industrialists and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to adopt the various available technologies at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) for processing and preservation of natural products,” while also recommending that “the Government of Nigeria should provide measurable support and increased funding for local production of herbal medicines.” They equally recommended that “there should be increased awareness about the potentials of herbal medicine and natural products in Nigeria.”