Inflammation and stories on medicine

Improve Developing Medical Systems
There is a large shortage of medical professionals with training at the highest level due to a lack of resources available in the developing world. As a result, medical facilities are failing and there is an increase in the lack of access to medicine and care necessary to support ever-growing populations. Nonetheless, progress still prevails and travel nurses continue to assist in the growth and maintenance of the medical infrastructure throughout developing nations. Several nonprofits, such as One Nurse at a Time and Nursing Beyond Borders, organize and deploy travel nurses to the nations that need support. Here are six ways travel nurses improve developing medical systems.

6 Ways Travel Nurses Improve Developing Medical Systems

  1. Provide New Knowledge: Travel nurses provide a depth of knowledge that is often unavailable to local doctors. Information commonly passes from community to community as nurses travel and learn new practices along the way. Not only does this sharing of information improve developing medical systems, but also improves the nurses’ capabilities. Additionally, Nursing Beyond Borders is part of the program that provides workshops and classes for local communities to promote hygiene and wellness. It also teaches local medical staff to establish a more in-depth knowledge of the practices that exist.
  2. Build Empathy and Community: Many travel nurses who move abroad sacrifice higher-paying positions to embark on a life of adventure. Travel nurses connect with local communities and often build connections by bringing a sense of worldly understanding. Additionally, empathy bolsters the depth of care that individuals receive. Furthermore, it develops a network of trust where individuals can feel comfortable coming back for medical assistance in emergencies. In some rural villages, locals would rather have their families and neighbors assist than travel to medical facilities. Thus, it is paramount that medical facilities exist as safe and empathetic spaces.
  3. Monitor Training During High-Risk Procedures: The organization One Nurse at a Time stated how typically in the developing world, “the lesser the amount of training, the more hands-on the position.” Travel nurses often monitor the training of local nurses who are working based on hands-on experience. This is another form of training that helps improve developing medical systems.
  4. Help Establish Infrastructure: Nursing Beyond Borders is one organization that focuses on building sustainable practices within developing countries. It sends licensed nurses all over the world to partner with local communities to build and improve infrastructure. Additionally, this organization focuses on hygiene, providing essential medical care and educating the local doctors and dentists on follow-up care for patients.
  5. Fill Unavoidable Gaps: While local education and infrastructure are improving in some nations, the nurses from these nations often leave the country in pursuit of higher-paying positions. As such, the Chilean government utilized economic prosperity to build successful private and public universities within the nation. Consequently, many of Chile’s nurses leave the country for better pay after receiving a good education. This leaves the local populations vulnerable.

Field Experience

Travel nurses must be ready for any medical emergency they face, even when it appears to be beyond the scope of their specific specialty. One Nurse at a Time works alongside travel nurses to equip them for the work they will do abroad. In many cases, travel nurses also work on research that is essential to improving global health. As such, travel nurses help to improve the health of the local communities. Travel nurses require patience and a willingness to help in any way possible.

These travel nurses are essential in many impoverished communities. They help improve developing medical systems and the lives of many vulnerable patients. Travel nurses and various organizations continue to help many people all around the world.

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Antimicrobial resistanceAntimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is a growing trend among newly discovered viruses. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 30 new diseases that threaten half the world’s population, which are particularly prevalent in developing nations.

Background of Antimicrobial Resistance

Drug-resistant diseases (AMR) have grown in prevalence over the past 40 years. Many of the medicines used to treat common infections like the flu and pneumonia have been around for decades. Eventually, viruses and bacteria develop their own microbial methods of fighting back against these drugs and inevitably become fully resistant to treatments.

Perhaps the most well-known example is the virus known as pneumococcus, or streptococcus pneumoniae. Penicillin has been used to treat pneumococcus since the early 1950s, giving it plenty of time to develop a strong resistance to the drug. Now, pneumococcus is practically untreatable, killing over 300,000 children below the age of 5 annually.

The CDC explains that germs that grow resistant to medications can be almost impossible to treat, often resulting in severe illness or death. This problem is only getting worse, as the U.N. finds that while 700,000 people die every year due to AMR diseases now, by 2050 that number will skyrocket to 10 million people.

The AMR crisis has severe economic implications as well. Antimicrobial diseases affect livestock as well as humans, leaving our international agricultural sector to collapse if not dealt with. All in all, the AMR crisis is projected to cause $100 trillion worth of global economic damage by 2050, only pushing people further into poverty.

Three organizations have stepped up to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance.

The AMR Action Fund

The AMR Action Fund is a financial project created by an international group of pharmaceutical companies. It aims to bring four new antibiotics that combat AMR to the consumer market by 2030. The fund expects to invest over $1 billion into late-stage antibiotic research by the end of 2025.

The AMR Alliance

The AMR Alliance is a massive coalition of more than 100 of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies, dedicated to fighting AMR. In 2016, the AMR Alliance signed the Industry Declaration, an agreement promising the development of anti-AMR medicines.

In 2018, the AMR Alliance spent a record $1.8 billion in the war against AMR. In 2020, the  AMR Alliance released its second progress report, detailing the progress made so far. The results are promising: 84% of relevant biotechnology companies are in the late stages of research and development for AMR cures and more than 80% of them have strategies in place for releasing the drugs.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO is taking serious steps to battle antimicrobial resistance. These dangerous antimicrobial superbugs threaten livestock in farms throughout the world. The FAO explains that two-thirds of future antimicrobial usage will be in livestock. These AMR superbugs will only increase in danger over time, as they develop stronger resistance to medicines.

The FAO has worked to improve agricultural practices across the world, specifically in developing nations. The FAO is raising awareness about this issue with rural farmers and is providing millions of dollars in funds to combat AMR.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is an annual campaign designed to increase awareness of the issue and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers, and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant diseases. Over the week of November 18, millions of posts are made around the globe in support of antimicrobial resistance awareness. Expanding awareness is key, as the WAAW campaign website explains that less general use of antibiotics could help to mitigate the effects of this issue.

– Abhay Acharya
Photo: Flickr

How COVID-19 Has Slowed Nigeria’s Access to MedicineNigeria, a country with both bustling cities and green plains stretching for miles, has earned the nickname “Giant of Africa.” Although Nigeria isn’t the largest country in Africa, it has the largest population with 206 million people calling it home. Even though the population in Nigeria has grown in 2020 by 2.58%, the country still has a high mortality rate and life expectancy of 54 years. Nigeria has one of the biggest HIV pandemics as well as a high risk for malaria. Access to medicine and vaccines have always been limited in Nigeria; however, COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues facing Nigeria’s healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased restrictions on international trade, which has greatly impacted Nigeria’s pharmaceutical needs for people with pre-existing conditions, particularly those with HIV/AIDS or malaria. As 70% of Nigeria’s medical products are shipped from China and India, COVID-19 has interrupted an important part of Nigeria’s basic health needs.

Healthcare in Nigeria

Nigeria has always had trouble accessing medication as the country has a great dependency on imported products. According to Medrxiv, a server for health sciences, in 2013, only 25% of kids under the age of 2 had been vaccinated. In an attempt to secure a more efficient healthcare system, Nigeria began to manufacture its own pharmaceuticals but lately, production has been on a decline due to high prices, poor quality and a shortfall in access to medicine. Nigeria has 115 pharmaceutical manufacturers but they mainly rely on large imports from neighboring countries.

Before the virus swept across Nigeria, the country only had 350 ventilators and beds for the entire population. In April 2020, Nigeria obtained 100 more ventilators. But, what has actually been done to improve Nigeria’s basic health needs?

Changing Nigeria’s Healthcare

In 2018, four policy documents were presented to Nigeria by the Federal Minister of Health. The four policies acknowledge Nigerians need for access to medication and control of narcotics.

  1. The National Policy for Controlled Medicines — This policy, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union (EU), aims to improve healthcare services in Nigeria. By properly training healthcare professionals, narcotics can be safely monitored for medical and scientific use while avoiding abuse. The policy ensures that Nigeria will have better access to medication so citizens do not have to silently suffer. In 2012, as reported by The Global Access to Pain Relief Initiative, Nigeria only used 0.01% of narcotics to manage pain. The UNODC states, “This was largely attributed to limited or poor quantification of annual estimates, inadequate and irregular release of funds for procurement, limited knowledge and poor attitude, or issues of fear and stigma among many healthcare workers and the general populace.”
  2. National Guidelines for Quantification of Narcotic Medicines — This policy is continuous of Nigeria’s efforts to have access to “narcotic medicines.” It is a way to know how much medicine is required to fulfill Nigeria’s basic health needs. By creating a standardized system, Nigeria can estimate which and how many narcotics are needed for the country.
  3. National Guidelines for the Estimation of Psychotropic Substances and Precursors — This policy regulates “psychotropic substances,” such as alcohol, caffeine and marijuana. These drugs, according to the UNODC, can be used for “pain management including treatment of neuropathic pain and in the management of obstetric emergencies including hemorrhage, thus critical in reducing maternal deaths.” The policy verifies that these substances are and will be used for legal use only.
  4. National Minimum Standards of Drug Dependence — In the past, Nigeria treated addiction as a psychiatric condition or mental illness. Although Nigeria does not have the data to see how many people in the country have a drug dependency, treatments of addiction are changing. The policy’s goal is to have adequate care such as “counseling, vocational and occupational rehabilitation” available across Nigeria.

According to a 2020 Statista analysis, the budget for Nigeria’s healthcare is expected to increase, eventually reaching 1477 billion Nigerian naira by 2021. This can create more opportunities for Nigeria’s healthcare system, increase access to medicine and fulfill Nigeria’s basic health needs.

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Medical Advancements in IranIran is a developing country located in western Asia as part of the Middle East. In the past several decades, Iran has accomplished major strides in terms of its health care system and medicine. The following list details only a few of the successful medical advancements in Iran that have been developed within the last decade.

The Health Care System

Iran adopted the Primary Health System in the 1990s, which revolutionized its health care system. Since its initiation, the country’s life expectancy has increased by eight years. This has had positive effects on both their economy and poor communities. Also, Iran has done tremendous work in improving the accessibility of health care. Currently, more than 90% of rural populations have access to affordable health care. Previously, there was a major gap in providing health care to their less populated, rural areas where many vulnerable groups resided.

Local Production

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the country has made initiating the production of locally produced medicines and drugs a priority. Prior to the revolution, Iran relied on imports from foreign countries for about 70-80% of its pharmaceutical ingredients. As of 2018, it is estimated that around 97% of their drugs were locally produced and manufactured.

Focusing on local production boosted Iran’s economy, making the country a major competitor in the world market. It also increased their GDP through the exportation of their locally produced pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the country has strict regulations in place for importation. Iran both follows American guidelines and creates its own rules, which ensures high-quality, safe products.

Iran’s health minister stated that the country saves around 700 million euros simply by producing their own products. The country can now allocate this money to other necessities, which displays the importance of medical advancements in Iran.

Medical Biotechnology

Biotechnology is the production and development of products by manipulating living organisms. Medical biotechnology has the power to uplift health care systems for countries across the globe. Iran’s advanced health care system has allowed them to become a leader in medical biotechnology across the Middle East and North Africa.

Iran’s boost in local production stems from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology. As of 2012, the country had 12 approved products and 15 more products pending approval. These products placed Iran among the frontrunners of biotechnological production. Other countries now rely on Iran for medical trade. Biotechnology has the potential to produce a multitude of medical advancements in Iran. If the country earns the spot as the leading country of biomedical technology, the benefits for their economy and citizens would be numerous.

New Medical Treatments

Medical advancements in Iran have also led to new medical treatments. The country has developed new, upcoming medicines and treatments in hopes to cure certain diseases. Just this year, a group of scientists announced they developed an herbal treatment for epilepsy, Fenosha, that resulted in successful outcomes during their clinical trials.

Reza Mazloom Farsibaf, the founder of the medicine, stated there is no other medicine that competes with Fenosha. The treatment is non-toxic and has minimal side effects and symptoms. If approved, mass production is expected for Fenosha. The herbal medicine could potentially become a viable option for the 340 million people across the world that require treatment for epilepsy. The country is expected to continue generating products that will further mobilize its position in medicine.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

.Project C.U.R.E.
Dr. James Jackson, an international economic consultant, went on a trip to Brazil. While there, he visited an empty, under-equipped clinic near Rio de Janeiro. Inspired to help under-resourced parts of the world, he came back to Colorado to create Project C.U.R.E (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment). With a $50,000 donation from his friend, Dr. James Jackson founded his nonprofit in 1987. In just 30 days, he collected $250,000 worth of medical supplies — all in his garage. Now, his son, Dr. Douglas Jackson, runs Project C.U.R.E. as CEO and President. This article will explore how Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics worldwide by providing them with the necessary equipment.

Company Accomplishments

Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics and hospitals around the world by providing them with life-saving medical equipment and supplies. It has shipped 2,078 containers to 132 countries since June 2000. Since its inception over three decades ago, Project C.U.R.E. operations have expanded across the United States. Its distribution centers are located in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Nashville and Phoenix. Additionally, small collection centers span multiple states. The organization has projects in countries such as Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, Myanmar and the Dominican Republic.

In 2019, Project C.U.R.E. sent 145 containers to 42 countries with the help of nearly 30,000 volunteers. Forty-two global locations received 322 C.U.R.E. kits, and 12,624 patients received treatment at C.U.R.E. clinics in 2019 alone. From 2017 to 2018, the nonprofit trained 584 medical professionals in six different countries. In most of the countries that the nonprofit has worked in, people earn under $5 per day. People in these communities are often unable to afford basic health care and have a lower standard of living.

Methodology

Project C.U.R.E. does not go into these communities at random. It goes into areas that have suffered natural disasters or other desperate situations only after receiving an invite. Once someone identifies a “want,” someone from the organization personally visits the hospital and meets with the doctors for an 18-page need assessment. This need assessment ensures that Project C.U.R.E. can formulate a customized plan that specifically meets the needs of that hospital. After that, Project C.U.R.E. picks items out from the warehouses and ships them in containers from the distribution centers straight to the hospital.

The nonprofit delivers two to three cargo containers of medical supplies every week. With just $25, one can sponsor a delivery of a box of supplies with a $500 value to any country that Project C.U.R.E. does work in.

Partnership with AmerisourceBergen

Project C.U.R.E. works with the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, an American drug wholesale company that specializes in pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services. Through this partnership, Project C.U.R.E. is able to make a positive impact on developing countries and their communities through improving access and quality of health care. Together, the partnership has gathered donations of medical equipment from medical facilities in the Chester County area. Distribution centers received the supplies for packaging and will eventually send them out to clinics all around the world.

Current Aid

Due to the pandemic, Project C.U.R.E. has shifted its focus to local needs. It packs and delivers personal protective equipment and ventilators to hospitals.

Yet, its mission remains the same: providing medical equipment and supplies to offer relief and critical resources to under-resourced communities. Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics so that they are able to perform safe medical procedures and offer quality health care to those most vulnerable.

Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

Oxygen Shortage in Peru
In light of the pandemic, there is an oxygen shortage in Peru. The South American country is in dire need of tanked or canister oxygen for citizens fighting COVID-19. When the outbreak first began, Peru was one of the first nations in Latin America to institute national restrictions, such as curfews, stay-at-home orders and border closures. However, the immense poverty undermined federal efforts. The poor had no choice but to continue leaving their homes for work in order to put food on the table. Despite the necessity, Peru struggles to provide vital healthcare to its infected citizens.

Why Oxygen?

COVID-19 attacks the body and makes breathing increasingly difficult for infected individuals. They simply cannot intake enough oxygen into their system to support their organs, especially those with compromised immune systems or lungs. This deprivation causes acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARSD) within five days of having the infection. The only treatment for ARSD is to replenish the patient’s lost oxygen. Clinical studies found oxygen respirators to be crucial for patient recovery from COVID-19.

Shortage Crisis

Peru’s national health care system was struggling even before the pandemic. After switching to a universal system, the program initially failed to provide for routine needs due to lack of funding. The current health crisis only amplified this inadequacy. Now, there is a full-blown oxygen shortage in the country. According to the nation’s Health Minister, Víctor Zamora, the country falls short of nearly 180 tons of oxygen every day.

The biggest issue, however, lies not in obtaining the gas. According to Gallardo, an oxygen distribution company, Peru’s oxygen shortage is not necessarily due to a lack of medically filtered oxygen. Instead, the problem occurs in the canisters transporting such oxygen. Recovering patients are hoarding the canisters instead of returning them for a refill because of their increase in value. Desperate family members of sick individuals are relying on the black market to obtain oxygen canisters.

The Response

Charities, as well as the government, are working to fight the unique oxygen shortage in Peru. In a press conference, President Martin Vizcarra revealed that $24.5 million will go toward the Health Ministry. These funds will help purchase a necessary oxygen supply for the country.

A few individuals, specifically in the religious community, have also been making a difference in the lives of the sick. In the city of Iquitos, Father Miguel Fuertes headed a fundraising campaign for poor families who cannot afford the oxygen tanks. Through these efforts, he was able to raise over $500,000 for the cause.

Another priest in northern Peru, Father José Manuel Zamora Romero, led the #ResisteLambayeque campaign. Through this effort, he was able to provide hundreds of biosafety equipment kits to struggling hospitals and medical centers. Despite the rising infection numbers and decreasing supplies, such work has positively affected hundreds and continues to instill hope for Peru.

Despite the oxygen shortage in Peru, measures to improve access to it should prove beneficial. In fact, the efforts of Father Miguel Fuertes and Father José Manuel Zamora Romero, among others, have already helped impoverished areas obtain access to oxygen tanks and medical care.

Amanda J. Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Art and Medicine
History reflects the intersection of medicine and the arts. The world’s medical community has always been at the forefront of creatively viewing and solving maladies while weaving altruism and expertise. The works of classically trained professionals like Alberto Burri, Charles Bell and Constantin Brancusi are some of the finest examples of the outreach potential for art and medicine. In the present, artists and doctors are still merging medicine and the creative arts, spreading their healing practice through mediums as unexpected as their duality. This article highlights four individuals who gracefully balance this duality.

Emtithal ‘Emi’ Mahmoud

Sudanese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emtithal Mahmoud is the embodiment of a multi-disciplinarian, balancing her dual degrees in Anthropology and Biology with a win at The Slam Poetry World Championship in 2015 with her poem “Mama.”

Mahmoud and her parents fled Darfur, arriving in the United States in 1998. The blending of poetry, biology, anthropology and activism may seem unlikely. The poet described her thoughts on the synergy in an interview with NPR, “I study people from the inside and people from the outside.”

Through her charitable outreach and activism, Mahmoud brings awareness to the plight of refugees and, more recently, to those the pandemic impacted. Mahmoud performs and hosts poetry workshops, while also visiting field camps. Additionally, Mahmoud is pursuing a career in medicine. However, she plans on continuing her advocacy for awareness about diseases like sickle cell anemia and for refugees.

Dr. Gbadamosi “FolaDavid” Adefemi

Dr. Gbadamosi Adefemi is a speed painter and visual artist, as well as a medical doctor based in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi fuses the studies of art and medicine to change social beauty standards. Dr. Adefemi has a fascination with the conditions he treats, particularly those visible on the skin of his patients. His eye for the unique leads him to create artistic representations of wrinkles, freckles, stretch marks and other skin features. Dr. Adefemi hopes to make everyone feel good about themselves and their bodies.

The Lagos native began drawing in medical school and eventually became the foremost speed-painter in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi continues to practice medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to continue influencing his patients and people everywhere to love themselves through this globally difficult time. In February 2020, he explained the melding of art and medicine to Face 2 Face Africa, “I mainly use my hand to take care of people, to heal them, treat them and make life a lot easier for them. And the same thing I do with my art.”

Dr. Venis Wilder “V. Tiarra”

Dr. Venis Wilder, medical director and performance artist, embodies the concept of bold fusion. Her medical career culminated into a passion for social justice in her South Florida community, and eventually, into her unique sound as V. Tiarra. She creates a blend of hip-hop, pop and R&B elevated with quick social commentary about politics, feminism and relationships. Her career as a medical director allows her to see the social problems in her community firsthand. Dr. Wilder discussed her choice to pursue music, stating, “I feel that sharing through music is a way to affect a larger number of people than I could see day-to-day in my office.”

V. Tiarra describes music as “healing,” and she continues to draw on music’s healing qualities during the pandemic. Most recently, she was a featured performer at the 2020 Blue Gala in Florida and released an album titled “Digital Love” in August 2020.

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur or Sharan, to her friends and family, brings optimism to her patients and to her thousands of fans. The dentist from Delhi describes herself as introverted by nature. Dr. Kaur found that art was a way to connect and motivate people. She feels spreading positivity and a feeling of connectivity is especially important during the pandemic.

Thus, positivity is the force behind Dr. Kaur’s pieces, even those highlighting stressful subjects. “I went through several bad patches. It was during one such bad phase that I found art,” said Dr. Kaur in an interview with eShe. Dr. Kaur is currently splitting her time between clinical hours and illustration. One can view some of her illustrations from her Instagram account titled, the_blue_frenchhorn.

These doctors and artists are paving the way to a brighter future for the global community. Hopefully, more people will aspire to spread positive messages of their own and to pursue interdisciplinary careers.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Medicine in Africa
54gene, an Africa-based research project, is reshaping medicine in Africa. It emerged in 2019 with the monumental goal of developing a database of African genomes that researchers could use to generate new vaccines for diseases unique to Africa. The organization’s targeted research focuses on genomic studies of non-communicable diseases, like cancer and sickle cell disease, and infectious diseases, like bacteria and parasites. To develop a genome reflecting Africa’s genetically diverse population, the 54gene biobank in Nigeria contains biological samples from the surrounding area.

The Need for African Genome Research

Currently, Caucasians are the most genetically researched, despite being a minority in the world population. At the time of 54gene’s launch, it had collected only 3% of genetic testing from Africa. The organization’s African genome research creates an opportunity to develop medicine unique to the African population. With technological advances, genetic testing is creating more precise and personalized medicine. It is 54gene’s mission to create a more equitable research pool and to include Africans in medical advances.

54gene’s recent funding has brought the project over $19 million, expanding its lab capabilities. The project received $4.5 million in seed funding and another $15 million in Series A funding. The cash flow into the project demonstrates the importance of their research the potential impact of this medical discovery. By funding this research, there is an acknowledgment of the gap in genetic testing and a means to address the disparity. The significant growth of the company is an investment in African healthcare and a phenomenon in global health advancements.

The Benefits of Genetic Mapping in Africa

The genotypes of Africans are the most genetically diverse in the entire world, and 54gene’s research has the potential for massive breakthroughs in developing new drugs tailored to their genome. The exclusion of Africans from genetic research has resulted in the exclusion of an entire continent from personalized medication. Fortunately, 54gene’s genetic mapping uses collected DNA samples to build drugs tailored to specific populations. The project has the potential of revolutionizing healthcare in Africa, with its long-term value increasing with technological advances in the medical field.

The organization aims to create research and co-develop drugs for diseases that disproportionately affect Africans. For example, records have determined that 92% of the world’s malaria cases occur in Africa. Customized medicine could lessen the effects malaria has on future generations of Africans. 54gene aims to not only produce research and drug trials but to also make it affordable. Its founder has a commitment to balancing the for-profit side of the business with the need to enhance medicine in Africa. Since the arrival of the pandemic, 54gene has also directed efforts to COVID-19 testing and screening for more immediate needs.

54gene is addressing major issues of inequality in the medical field and improving medicine in Africa. The organization’s African genome research is making strides in African healthcare. Its research has the potential to target non-communicable and infectious diseases that affect the African population on a larger scale. Not only is this research imperative, but it is a movement towards leveling the quality of medical treatment on a global scale.

Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Herbal Remedies
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many discussions and debates, especially when it comes to treatments. Though it may take more than a year to create a vaccine, many countries and individuals are using herbal remedies for COVID-19. These remedies have been in their cultures before the new coronavirus and now aid in the prevention and treatment of it. For centuries, especially in countries where medications, prescriptions and hospital visits are inaccessible and/or expensive, people have been creating their remedies. They then pass them on, generation to generation. This article discusses such remedies, both ancient and newly discovered.

Traditional Remedies

When the coronavirus broke out in December 2019, many people in China used various traditional remedies. For centuries, Chinese medicine has been popular across the world. Whether it is with more serious viruses and illnesses, such as COVID-19, or something more common, such as a sore throat. They are believed to alleviate symptoms, reduce the severity of the virus, improve recovery rates and reduce the mortality rate. Herbal remedies for COVID-19 (commonly used) include jinhua qinggan capsules, lianhua qingwen capsules and shufeng jiedu capsules.

In Madagascar, the president endorsed the launch of Covid-Organics, claiming that it was safe enough for children to drink. A key ingredient in these herbal remedies is sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which is a traditional ingredient that gave rise to the antimalarial drug, artemisinin. According to the WHO, about 87% of African populations use traditional medicine. This is especially prevalent in poor and rural areas where hospitals, pharmacies and health care professionals are difficult to find. It is common to use herbs and roots as replacements for these medications in many countries in the southern hemisphere. Additionally, modern medicine is often unaffordable, which is why many Malagasies and other African populations use traditional medicine.

Modern Remedies

In Kenya, many people are drinking fruity, gingery dawa as a remedy for the coronavirus. In Kiswahili, dawa means medicine. This drink has become especially popular in Kenyan street markets and vendors arrange the ingredients. They include lemon, ginger and garlic. However, each drink is different — some have aloe vera and some have turmeric. Despite the popularity of this remedy, people have still been taking proper precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands. In a time of uncertainty, dawa brings comfort to many Kenyans. Markets flood the streets of Kenya, with vendors selling various versions of dawa. Understandably so, it is one of the most popular items.

In the U.S., many people are turning to elderberry, zinc and vitamin C. In fact, along with toilet paper, these vitamins were in the top items consumed on Amazon. Elderberry has long been known to be an immune-boosting vitamin. However, it is unclear whether or not it is effective in treating coronavirus. It may, however, bring a sense of comfort — especially in a time of such uncertainty. Many grocery stores now have their vitamin sections cleared out.

For centuries, herbal remedies have treated viruses and infections, including the common cold, influenza, fever, herpes and more. People around the world rely on traditional medicines, which is understandable given the  inaccessibility of modern medicines or medical care in many areas. Though there may be benefits to traditional medicine, it is still unclear whether or not there are any real remedies to the coronavirus. Yet two important factors that these herbal remedies for COVID-19 bring are comfort and hope.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Wikimedia

traditional healers in africaTraditional medicine, while not as popular or widely accepted as Western medicines, is a vital part of African communities. Traditional healers in Africa are more accessible, affordable and culturally and spiritually relevant for many African people. This contributes heavily to their popularity, and it also enables them to play a role in helping respond to COVID-19.

What Is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization describes traditional medicine as a practice or skill resulting from cultural beliefs and ideologies. Similar to Western medicine, traditional medicine prevents and treats physical and mental illnesses; however, traditional medicine usually uses herbs, plants or even spiritual therapies.

While traditional medicine may seem ineffective and useless to some, it is the main source of medicine for many. Due to its convenience and affordability, over 70% of Africans use herbal treatments. Given that one third of the African population does not have access to essential medicines, traditional medicine plays a central role in their health. A study in 2011 illustrated the accessibility of traditional practitioners. While most medical doctors practice in urban areas, rural areas are less fortunate. For this reason, many people rely on traditional health providers and their medications. These three countries reveal a large gap between how many traditional healers and doctors are available in a community:

  • Zimbabwe: There is one traditional practitioner for every 600 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 6,250 people.
  • Ghana: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 20,000 people.
  • Mozambique: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 50,000 people.

Affordable and Culturally Relevant Medicine

Not only are traditional healers in Africa more accessible, they also have affordable medicines that don’t always require payment upfront. A study conducted by the WHO in 36 middle- and low-income countries revealed that medications were too expensive for a large majority of the population. Similarly, a study on healthcare in Zimbabwe reported that traditional healers are usually the main source of care for poor communities because they have no other options.

Furthermore, traditional healers in Africa and their medicines are widely accepted by African people and culture. Even if people can afford Western medicine, then, many prefer traditional medicines. For example, some healers say that they can channel the ancestral spirit through their patients’ bodies. This is one service that professional doctors cannot provide.

How Traditional Healers in Africa Help with COVID-19

While traditional healers in Africa provide many benefits to African communities, health officials strongly advise against the use of untested traditional medicine to treat COVID-19. The WHO encourages people to wait until medicines have been tested and investigated before consuming them. In South Africa, traditional healers have been advised to refer patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to a higher level of care. However, the role of traditional healers during the pandemic is not limited to referrals. Here are eight jobs traditional healers in Africa perform:

  1. Referring patients to correct and suitable levels of care
  2. Educating the public to combat the spread of false information regarding COVID-19
  3. Teaching about prevention methods
  4. Helping to spread public health messages
  5. Informing people about the necessities of personal hygiene
  6. Providing counseling services
  7. Postponing large gatherings
  8. Working with the Department of Health to aid screening and messaging

Health Officials and Traditional Healers: Better Together

To effectively combat COVID-19, experts believe that health officials and the government need to work with traditional healers and not against them. Because traditional healers live in the same community as many of their patients, they have the advantage of possessing important relationships with them. Patients may therefore disregard the advice of a doctor and trust a traditional healer instead. This points to the necessity for cooperation between healers and doctors.

An example of this cooperation comes from Tanzania, where scientists are working with herbalists to help with HIV/AIDS symptoms. Some of the herbs the group is testing are known for strengthening the immune system and increasing appetites. While the team recognizes that herbal remedies won’t cure HIV, they can lessen patients’ symptoms.

With regard to COVID-19, the WHO, which accepts both traditional and alternative medicine, is doing similar tests. For example, it is currently testing plants like Artemisia annua to see if they could possibly aid in the fight against COVID-19. If more scientists, governments and health officials can work with traditional healers like this, all of their patients and communities stand to benefit.

– Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr