Could traditional medicine become a viable industry?

Traditional healers in Rwanda could soon benefit from government support with the aim to help them set up small model processing plants for herbal medicine as part of the industrial development and lucrative businesses that offer jobs in the next five years, officials say.

According to George Nyombaire, the Head of Research and Development Coordination Department at National Industrial Research and Development Agency, the units will serve as a model for other traditional healers to learn to develop and industrialize their production of herbal medicine and earn from it.


“This is a new initiative designed to develop traditional healers in five years during which we’ll be funding selected model units. The model units will produce quality medicine with maximum hygiene and established standards so as to avoid negative impact on consumers” he said.


The unit, officials say, will be funded at the tune of Rwf20m and Rwf70 million in addition to more funding from investors.


He said that an assessment is being carried out to know what ought to be done in each year over the next five years.

“We are going to conduct research to ascertain the gaps in traditional healers’ skills and capacity. That is where we can give them modern machines for producing herbal medicine, among others, “he said.

“We have to conduct studies on projects that could guide how herbal medicine production could become a lucrative business that provides jobs. When that is done to help them get profits, provide quality products and create employment we can make it sustainable. For instance, studies will also help set up prices of produced traditional herbal medicine by considering the value of herbs and packaging,” he said.

According to a recent study,  he said, 55 per cent of traditional healers in Rwanda have primary school education level which impedes their professionalism and quality of herbal medicine at the industrial level.

“There are scientific principles which must guide traditional healers which brings about the need to train them. For instance, it is not advisable to provide herbal medicine to patients without knowing the level of dosage as well as the patient needs,” he explained.

Learning from other countries

Nyombaire said the industrial development of herbal medicine in Rwanda is learning from model production from other countries.

“For instance, there are about 4,000 hospitals and 40,000 health centres in China that use traditional herbal medicine which are recognised by the Government of China. In India, there are over 25,000 certified pharmacies that trade herbal medicine and have over 8,000 herbal species from which such medicine are produced,” he said.

He also quoted World Health Organisation figures which show that traditional herbal medicines generate over $40 billion worldwide.

“ This means traditional healers can contribute to national development but this requires an organised way of production,” he said adding that training on how to prepare and measure dosage is needed.

He added that in order to conduct research that impacts traditional healers, there is need of collaboration with other conservation institutions so as to save the plant species from extinction

According to Daniel Gafaranga the head of Rwanda Network of Traditional Healers, the funding for small processing units is timely for sustainable development.

“Each traditional healer has skills in herbal medicine production and when these small and model factories will have been constructed, they will guide them on the best practices to avoid the negative impact on human health,” he said.

The network has over 3,000 members while there are about 14,000 traditional healers in the country.

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