A herbal cure for cancer? Beware…

March 27, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 26 – Many children learn early; to pick an apple beyond their reach, they climb onto the shoulders of a playmate.

Similarly, within the field of medicine, something similar has taken place. Medical researchers have reached higher and higher up the scale of achievement by standing on the shoulders of eminent practitioners of the past.

Among those earlier healers were well-known men such as Hippocrates and Pasteur, along with men such as Vesalius and William Morton names unfamiliar to many but modern medicine owes a lot to them.

In ancient times the healing arts were often not a scientific venture but an exercise in superstition and religious ritual.

In time, though, medical practice became increasingly scientific in its approach. The foremost ancient scientific healer was Hippocrates. He was born about 460 B.C.E. on the Greek island of Kos and is regarded by many as the father of Western medicine. Hippocrates laid the basis for a rational approach to medicine.

Centuries later, it is astonishing when many people turn to herbal medicine as a means of supposedly curing their ailments especially life threatening ones.

Mukisa Okwaro is a cancer patient living in Kenya. He has been suffering from the ailment for the last three years. He told Capital Newsbeat that by the time he had knowledge of his condition, the cancer had already spread to his liver.

He explained that the he had lost all hope in life when a friend of his introduced him to a doctor who specialises in herbal medicine.

“By the time I was diagnosed, my cancer had already spread to the liver and when I did my research, I realised that once it goes to the liver there is really not much hope, or so I thought,” he stated.

“I was very desperate and the first thing I thought of was to look for somebody who can help me. I was introduced to a certain doctor who specialises in alternative therapy using food supplements and herbal medicine,” he said.

“At that particular time, I was bleeding profusely. The therapist however assured me that the bleeding would stop in time and he would return to normal health,” he recounted.

He described the treatment he was subjected to as very expensive as he had to use more that Sh300,000 to cater for the medical costs.

“It was a very expensive treatment because to start all the treatment I had to pay a down payment of Sh150,000 and then afterwards had to add another Sh150,000,” he said.

Mr Mukisa however had to stop the treatment when his condition instead of getting better deteriorated much further. He said that when he presented himself to the Nairobi Hospital, it was discovered that the cancer he was suffering from could be treated using modern medicine.

“As my condition deteriorated, I was admitted to Nairobi Hospital since I had already lost a lot of blood. I was actually taken in and diagnosed with acute anaemia,” he stated.

Speaking of his dissolution with herbal medicine, Mr Okwaro emphasised the need for Kenyans to be wary of conmen who lure many into the trap of using herbal medicine despite them not being vetted by the government.  

The Kenya Cancer Association has called on the government to regulate the marketing and advertising targeting the use of herbal medicine for cancer patients. This was after a finding that a majority of cancer patients paid exorbitant prices while seeking the help of ineffective herbal medicine practitioners.

KCA Vice-Chairman David Makumi stated that this has led to the degradation of the health of cancer patients 

“The aggressive marketing has actually seen thousands of Kenyans turn to those herbal therapies with very serious consequences. Most of the cancer patients are presenting themselves late when they have lost a realistic chance of cure,” he pointed out. “Most of the therapies are ineffective or unsafe or both.”

He further said that there is need for employees to be well conversant with health and safety regulations governing operations in the work place. He stated that many cancer-related ailments are contracted at places of work.

Mr Makumi stated that knowledge of safety measures will go a long way in minimising the cancer risk. He emphasised the need for the government and labour organisations to have a system that will follow up on cancer related incidents in workplaces.

“People should not only work for their pay slips, but they should also make an effort to work safely in their work places,” he stated.

“We would like to urge, (Central Organisation of Trade Unions) COTU, (National Environment Management Authority) NEMA and other public health agencies to make inspection of industries a priority and educate Kenyans on the need to observe safety regulations while working.”

Indeed, the results of not going through the proper channels when seeking medical treatment especially for chronic diseases can be disastrous. Other than deteriorating the patient’s health, other people especially the family members pay the hefty price of looking after the invalid.

This is confirmed by a mother whose daughter had cancer. “Every member of the family is affected,” she said, “whether or not they show it or are aware of it.”

Of course, not everyone will be affected in the same way. However, if family members understand how chronic illness affects people in general, they will likely be better equipped to meet the specific challenges of their particular situation.

In addition, if those outside the family circle; workmates, schoolmates, neighbours, and friends understand the impact of chronic illnesses, they will be better able to provide meaningful and empathetic support.

Most importantly, all of us need to seek proper medical care and this at times would mean going to a properly registered hospital whose doctors have been thoroughly trained to tackle various ailments.

Doing so will ensure that we not only live healthy lives, but also prevent any condition from worsening as a result of using herbal medicine.


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