Quacks taint traditional medicine

Muscat: People rely on traditional medicine as it is effective and affordable but quacks claiming to cure COVID-19 are threatening its very existence and credibility.

More than 80 per cent of the people in developing countries rely on herbal and other traditional medicines for their primary healthcare, according to Oman Medical Journal.

The use of herbal medicine is very common in the Arab world including Oman and their consumption is increasing at a rapid pace worldwide due to the widespread belief that these preparations are natural and therefore, safe, which is not true, the journal said in a study.

In Oman, herbal remedies are considered as over the counter (OTC) drugs and thus are easily available through pharmacies in different dosage forms such as tablets, capsules, syrups, extracts etc. Self-medication of herbal medicines is very much prevalent among populations due to the irrational claims or advertisements by manufacturers through different mass media. Patients use herbal medicines either alone or in combination with other conventional medicines without informing the treating physician, which may lead to serious clinical implications.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) recently warned against fake herbal medicine after it noticed increasing cases of trading illicit formulations through social media.

In a study Oman Medical Journal found that cough preparations (Thyme or ivy leaves extract) were the most widely dispensed drugs, followed by rejuvenators and vitalisers and slimming agents.

“These health and herbal medicines and formulations are being backed by bogus claims that they are natural and do not cause any health hazards. This is contrary to the clauses and provisions of the Regulating the Profession of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Establishments Law issued by the Royal Decree No 35/2015,” a senior health expert at the Ministry said.

“Oman’s traditional herbal medicines and related products are sometimes used without any proper knowledge of their side effects. I advise all to be cautious whilst using such home remedies, some may work but over usage could be a source of serious side effects,” said Dr Abood al Sawafi, Vice Chancellor, University of Buraimi.

To prevent wrong use of traditional medicine which could result in health hazards and to promote traditional herbal medicine, the Diwan of Royal Court established a clinic of traditional medicine under its supervision with experienced herbalists and many Omanis and expats have benefitted from its remedial properties.

“Historically, the curative and palliative effects of some herbs, minerals, and animal parts are well acknowledged among the rural or tribal populations and this information is typically passed on from one generation to another in the community. Hence, it is important for the government to take urgent steps to introduce the use of traditional medicine to supplement primary health care, “says Doctor Mahmoud al Rahbi, Head of Emergency Medicine at Al Nahda Hospital.

According to the ministry, herbal medicines promoted through social media contain chemicals despite being labelled as natural. “This is considered commercial fraud and exposes the promoter of these products to legal liability,” the statement added.

“Therefore, the Ministry of Health urges all citizens and residents not to use these products, and always purchase medications from the licensed sources and according to the medical instructions in order to ensure the health and safety of all,” the MoH said.

Experts further added that deforestation poses a threat to endangered medicinal plants. If they are not conserved it will be lost to the future generations.