There has been a rapid expansion of allopathic health care in Nigeria over the last three decades, including an increase in the number of allopathic health care providers. At the same time, because the majority of Nigerians use traditional medicine, the Government of Nigeria has shown appreciation for the importance of traditional medicine in the delivery of health care.
Though informal interaction between the Government and traditional medicine practitioners can be traced back to the 19th century, formal legislation promoting traditional medicine dates to 1966 when the Ministry of Health authorized the University of Ibadan to conduct research into the medicinal properties of local herbs. Efforts to promote traditional medicine continued throughout the 1970’s in the form of conferences and training programs. In the 1980’s, policies were established to accredit and register traditional medicine practitioners and regulate the practice of traditional medicine. In 1984, the Federal Ministry of Health established the National Investigative Committee on Traditional and Alternative Medicine. A committee to research and develop traditional and complementary/alternative medicine was formed by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in 1988.
The Nigerian Medical and Dental Practitioners Act of 1988 forbids the practice of medicine or dentistry by unregistered practitioners, specifically the issuance of death certificates, performance of post-mortems, or certification of leprosy or mental disability. However, traditional medical activities are protected by a provision in Section 17.6, which reads as follows:
Where any person is acknowledged by the members generally of the community to which he belongs as having been trained in a system of therapeutics traditionally in use in that community, nothing in [the provisions of the Act dealing with offences] shall be construed as making it an offence for that person to practice or hold himself out to practice that system; but the exemption conferred by this subsection shall not extend to any activity (other than circumcision) involving an incision in human tissue or to administering, supplying, or recommending the use of any dangerous drug within the meaning of Part V of the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Registration requirements for chiropractors and osteopaths are outlined in the Medical Rehabilitation Therapists (Registration, etc.) Decree of 1988.
A 1992 decree created the National Primary Health Care Development Agency with a broad mandate concerning health matters, including the endorsement of traditional birth attendants. Among other things, the Agency is responsible for supporting village health care systems by
• Paying special attention to and providing maximum support for the training, development, logistic support, and supervision of village health workers and traditional birth assistants, along with the relationship between those workers and their communities and the mechanisms that link those workers to other levels of the health system;
• Paying special attention to the involvement of women and grassroots organization of women in the village health system.
In 1994, all state health ministries were mandated to set up boards of traditional medicine in order to enhance the contribution of traditional medicine to the nation’s official health care delivery system.
The National Traditional Medicine Development Program was established in 1997. Since then, the Federal Ministry of Health has been instituting measures to formally recognize and enhance the practice of traditional medicine. These measures include the constitution and inauguration of the National Technical Working Group on Traditional Medicine; development of policy documents on traditional medicine, including the National Policy on Traditional Medicine, National Code of Ethics for the Practice of Traditional Medicine, the Federal Traditional Medicine Board Decree, and Minimum Standards for Traditional Medicine Practice in Nigeria; and advocacy for traditional medicine at all levels and in relevant forums, such as the National Council on Health (since 1997), Consultative Meetings of the Honorable Minister of Health with State Commissioners for Health and Local Government Chairmen (in 1999), and the Presidential Think Tank Forum (in 1999).
In 2000, the Traditional Medicine Council of Nigeria Act was proposed. The functions of the Council include facilitating the practice and development of traditional medicine; establishing guidelines for the regulation of traditional medical practice to protect the population from quackery, fraud, and incompetence; liaising with state boards of traditional medicine to ensure adherence to the policies and guidelines outlined in the Federal Traditional Medicine Board Act; establishing model traditional medicine clinics, herbal farms, botanical gardens, and traditional medicine manufacturing units in the geopolitical zones of the country; and collaborating with organizations with similar objectives within and outside Nigeria. The Nigeria Medical Council is contemplating integrating homeopathy into the country’s health care delivery system.