Malaria: COVID-19 increasing self-medication
Walking to drug stores or combing nearby bushes in search for medication for the treatment of malaria remains a preferred choice and a first aid approach in fighting the disease in many Ghanaian homes.
The symptoms of the disease, which includes fever, vomiting, running stool, high temperature, are easily interpreted by parents or caretakers who administer tablets, herbal mixtures, balms, herbal baths among others to the sick.
Statistics indicate that Ghana is among the 15 highest malaria burden countries in the world and reported the highest increase in absolute case numbers of 500,000 new cases from 2017 to 2018.
Despite this worrying situation, herbal preparation or home remedies and self-medication appear on the increase due to COVID-19 and the fear of hospital visitations.
This is against the global malaria 3Ts (-Test, Treat and Track), campaign, which was doing just good in hospitals across the country before Ghana started recording COVID-19 cases.
A visit by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) to some drug stores and herbal retail shops in Ashaiman and Okaishie Drug Lane in the Greater Accra Region, indicate that the preference was not only linked with cost but some trust in the potency of the local mixtures and home remedies.
Ms Rose Korley, Dispensing Technician, Marton Chemist, Ashaiman, said most clients who came to her shop preferred the local herbal mixture for treatment of Malaria; “at least about six people come each day to purchase drugs in relation to malaria treatment.”
She said most persons followed adverts and recommendations from neighbours and friends to reach their decision.
“A customer I remember after buying and taking a particular anti-malaria drug returned to complain of experiencing faster heart beats,” she said, adding that most people who did not have prescriptions preferred to buy the local mixtures.
At Ashaiman Market, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, a trader in raw herbal products, said elderly women and men mostly patronised her products because the preparation of the mixtures was rooted in traditions and various cultures handed down from generation to generation.
She said some leaves of trees, herbs, roots and back of trees were used for the treatment of malaria in many homes.
At the Okaishie Drug Lane, Mr. Meshack Abeka, Sales Manager, Angel Herbal, said some Ghanaians often patronised products based on the big adverts but not necessary its efficacy.
He also commended the Food and Drugs Authority who occasionally visited herbal shops to pick some products and re-examine their efficacy to ensure that most of the shops maintained the approved standards.
Mr Abeka said some producers of malaria fever mixtures because of financial considerations, reduced the standards for mass production after they received certification from the Food and Drugs Authority.
Ms Joyce Kpentey, Sales Manager, Kingswalk Herbal, told the GNA that the herbal medicines were preferred because of their potency and ability to cure multiple ailments.
Mr. Isaac Obiri, Sales Manager, Kof-Sam Herbal, said fever related drugs were amongst the fast moving drugs in the market because people believed that the orthodox medicine suppressed the disease but the herbal medicines with time would uproot the disease.
Meanwhile, Dr Francis Zotor, a Nutritionist and Acting Director, International Programmes, University of Health and Allied Sciences, had told GNA that abuse of agrochemicals and the consumption of chemical residues applied on crops, plants and herbs used for herbal medicines could disrupt the genetic formation of the individual over time.
Another study conducted by researchers at the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Health Services, and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found a six fold increase in risk factor for Autism Spectrum Disorders for children of women who were exposed to organochlorine pesticides.
Dr Boakye-Yiadom Adomako, a medical officer at the Asankrangwa Catholic Hospital in Asankrangwa, Ghana, said the use of herbs for treatment could end one up in sorrow.
He recalled the loss of two siblings who died in the hospital after their mother had administered some herbal preparation to them at home using an enema with the intention of cleansing their stomach (a common approach in Ghanaian tradition).
He said the children were rushed to the facility one after the other by their mother, adding that diagnoses revealed after their death was caused by the herbs used by their mother, which had been sprayed with some weedicide, which poisoned their internal organs and led to their death.
The woman lost two children on the spot; the use of herbal preparations and concoctions could serve a purpose but poses many dangers because the raw materials may not be subjected to any further examinations before use.
The story is told of the use of the moringa plant where some part could be used for food and medicinal purposes whereas other parts of the plant, especially the roots could be poisonous when consumed.
In conclusion, the use of herbal preparations to treat malaria appear to be reaching a crescendo amid COVID-19 with many shying away from hospitals and health facilities.
It is, therefore, imperative for stakeholders to embark on aggressive regular sensitisation on the importance of the 3Ts and proper treatment of malaria for a healthy nation, during and post COVID-19 era.