l By N. Bassey l

In Nigeria, a multi-billion naira industry is thriving on the manufacture, distribution and sales of cure-all miracle drugs. Many Nigerian have suffered direly from the effects of these miracle cures. Today, we take a look at the problem and offer solutions to the menace.

Mark had been diabetic from his teens. Born to middle class parents and educated to BSC level, he had taken his insulin shots regularly and stayed stable through his youth. On his fortieth birthday, a doctor near him suggested he 'try a drug regimen that would cure him of diabetes permanently.' The new regimen was 'proven and safe' all Mark had to do was meet the doctor's husband who was a Professor of Biochemistry to receive a trial. Treatment would cost N100, 000 but, surely that was a minute amount compared to the dream of living free from Diabetes Mellitus forever.

Mark went ahead with the treatments. He was referred to an agent where he made payments and received the un-labelled drugs. He was asked to stop his insulin treatments. He was not given a receipt for the money he handed over to the agent in a cramped office on a back-street without an address. Three days later, Mark collapsed and went into a coma.

A week, later he was diagnosed with multiple organ damage and kidney failure. Two weeks later, Mark was dead.

Mark's sad story is not new or news. It is the fruit of a tree of national unconsciousness towards medicines, cure-alls, medication and the sanctity of human lives. Even today, I saw posted auspiciously on the walls of the government hospital I visited: 'Get Cured Of HIV/AIDS', 'Regain Your Eyesight Now!', 'Call Dr Goody-Goody For Cure and Treatment Of All Ailments And Diseases Including: HIV, Hepatitis, Herpes, Syphilis, Gonoreah, Pile, Jedi-Jedi, Staphylococcus, and Stroke.'

Inwardly, I cringed. How could anyone claim to cure HIV/AIDS? Why would they go to such lengths to trap and fleece people that are already dealing with the weight of lifetime medication, stigma and fear? Shouldn't it be illegal for 'healers' to make unproven claims about their prowess? Who on earth calls Staphylococcus a disease? (It is bacteria.) How many unsuspecting Nigerians are getting scammed by these cure-all healers every day? Every hour of everyday?

In the simplest sense it is perjury. No medication or medication seller has the skill, knowledge or tools to cure all ailments. Yes, medical science is still grappling with HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Yes, The treatment options for conditions like Herpes Simplex, Hepatitis, Infertility and Haemorrhoids (pile) are limited, expensive, and often unsatisfactory, but like it or not, that is the best we have for now. Hopefully there will be some ground shattering discoveries that will make this paragraph history soon until then, we have to make do with what is proven, safe and globally acceptable.

The Nigerian government must frown most sternly at any claims to cure diseases that have not been medically verified. In the very least, all drugs and medication made for consumption in Nigeria MUST have National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registration papers. Furthermore, such 'experimental' drugs should be registered under a research group, e.g., Department of Pharmacy or Pharmacology to ensure that the potions and powders, 'first do no harm'.

The notion of traditional healers and herbalists coming on television to claim they have cures for all medically incurable conditions must be stopped. Allowing such programs to air, weaken the confidence of an already distrustful public in the medical sector. The lay Nigerian is programmed to believe anything they read in a book or see on TV. They reason that if it was allowed on air, then it is true, a most dangerous assertion.

Government has to prohibit the sales of medically active substances without and controls or checks. They have to audit the traditional healers and train them on the limits of care, patient/client ethics and sanctity of life. Whilst doing this, they can also get the data of such persons for monitoring and discipline where violations of human and medical rights are found to have occurred.

Drugs and medicines being imported into Nigeria are not exempt. Preying on the prevalent mindset of the 'average' Nigerian that 'Imported is excellent, locally made-- inferior', many individuals and companies are flooding the Nigerian market with a medley of potions, tablets, capsules, creams and -- wait for it-- sanitary napkins that are able to treat all kinds of disease.

These products might come as supplements, aphrodisiacs, and so called immune-boosters. Some are sold as gels or cream. All are able to cure every kind of illness, all require no prescription, and all are designed to enrich their manufacturers at the expense of a pool of poor, ignorant, enthusiastic clients.

What then must we do? First, we must refuse to engage in self medication and quack medicine. When (if) a symptom appears we should see a doctor. A medical doctor will be able to ascertain if the symptom is harmless or harmful and to advise on next steps.

Second, we must avoid the use-- especially ingestion of -- drugs that are not NAFDAC registered, no matter where they are made.

Third, we must read and research on any medical condition we might have. The internet provides a wealth of resources on cause, care, treatment and important dos and don’ts. An informed client is a healthy client. An ignorant client is fair game for the next set of panacea scams. Don't allow yourself or your loved ones to be used for unauthorised, amateur drug experiments. When in doubt, consult a doctor.

Take a stand against fake drugs and false claims. Pursue a healthy lifestyle: eat 5 potions of fruit/vegetables each a day, exercise for 30 minutes minimum every week, go for a 'Well Client' check-up twice a year, consult a doctor when symptoms persist for 24 hours.

Lead a new generation of Nigerians that are responsible, smart and knowledgeable about their health. Determine to grow in that knowledge daily. Remember, better safe than sorry. Realise, that not every 'healer' cares about your health, some are more interested in making money from people's pain. Be proactive about your health. Know that 'Health is wealth' and is often only valued when it is gone. Value your health now, so you'll be wealthier tomorrow.

Follow the contributor on twitter @StNaija