Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Formal structure needed for herbal medicine

Published:Monday | November 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Dr Sonia Davidson, both a medical doctor and a practitioner in alternative medicine, in the discipline of 'Mind and Body Healing', said while there has been an enthusiastic move in Jamaica towards developing a range of medical products from ganja, the question of who will be the scientists and who will dispense these products has not yet been adequately addressed. "The persons who are going to dispense have to be trained. Who is going to teach them? Where is the formal structure?" she asked.

The experienced medical practitioner also said the Ministry of Health seemed satisfied with the fact that they have addressed herbal medicine, adding that "they are registering the medicine, but they don't say who can administer it or who can prescribe it and who can use it."

"So the things are coming into the health-food stores and the persons who are selling it have never had a day of training," she highlighted.

A recent study focusing on the safety factor in relation to herbal medicine in Jamaica by a scientist who was trained at the University of Westminster found that most of the patients he studied right across the island did not tell their doctors that they were taking herbs, for fear of being ridiculed. Davidson argued that the research further showed that the patients either stopped taking the doctor's medicine and used the herbs alone, or took both the medication prescribed by the medical practitioner and the herbs, in which case, many of the drugs interacted adversely with each other.

Place for Alternative Medicine

Pushing for a more inclusive approach to alternative medicine, Davidson said, for more than a decade, she has had to be trying to convince technocrats in government to appreciate that there is a place for trained persons who practise alternative medicine in the health sector and they should be accommodated within a formal legislative setting similar to those who operate in conventional medicine.

Davidson said she uses every opportunity she gets to emphasise the inevitability of regularising the practice of complementary medicine in Jamaica.

She argued that while "some of our very lofty professors" will describe many aspects of alternative medicine as "rubbish", she is not fearful to stand her ground as there is extensive research which provides substantial evidence of the benefits of this discipline.

"You cannot graduate from university 20 years ago and don't keep up to date and know that these things that we see are not researched. Many of them are researched, but because you are not aware, they would never be included in our curriculum," she asserted.

"A surgeon should know that playing music, instead of chatting rubbish over the patient's head during surgery, actually could reduce the greater blood flow. Every discipline needs to borrow from complementary medicine," she recommended.

Massage is alternative medicine but was once ridiculed, she argued, noting that if a patient reports that it helps them, conventional medical practitioners should not scoff at them. "They need to have an open mind to alternative medicine", she said.

"Many things, once they have been proven and taken out of alternative medicine, they are no longer called alternative. Of course, they are called medicine and nobody remembers where they are coming from."

Objective Approach

From as far back as 1998, Davidson has been a crusader for complementary/alternative medicine to be formally introduced in Jamaica, and was a member of an advisory council that was set up by the late former permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dr Grace Allen Young.

According to Davidson, the late former permanent secretary took an objective approach to the issue of complementary medicine and was neither for nor against it.

The advisory council, which comprised ministry officials and stakeholders, prepared a comprehensive report and presented it to the ministry.

The expert in 'Mind and Body Healing' told The Gleaner that, after Allen Young's passing, successive permanent secretaries and health ministers could not even find the report.

Davidson was unfazed by the setback in the missing report, but continued to make recommendations to the health ministry. She advised the ministry to recruit someone trained in herbal medicine to assist in the development of standards for the discipline. "You can't open a bar unless you have some kind of licence, but you can go out and practise (alternative) medicine," she quipped.

A suggestion was also made to the Government to start with those persons who had received accreditation from abroad. "They want to come, they don't want to work in an unregulated setting, and they want to make sure there is a distinction between them and those persons who are using their name in vain."

It was also recommended that the Government could set up a council for complementary and alternative medicine which would operate in a similar fashion to the Medical Council of Jamaica. She said anyone who wants to practise complementary medicine would have to report to the proposed new council.