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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Columnist: Cephas Kwaku Debrah

Tormented by the memory of Dr. Oku Ampofo

File photo: The late Dr. Oku Ampofo File photo: The late Dr. Oku Ampofo

Am tired, I cannot keep it in anymore. Yes, the memory of a renowned Apostle in Ghana torments me. This time you do not need holy water to be poured on me or spells to be cast on me before I confess.

Am deeply buffeted so am doing it voluntarily. I know voicing it out will give me freedom. As to who this Apostle is and why his spirit keeps tormenting me, I will tell you.

During an era where western medicine was taking dominance over our African traditional medicine and the impact of colonialism on our traditional way of life was glaring, a great Apostle emerged; Dr. Edward Francis Oku Ampofo (1908-1988), popularly known as the Apostle of herbalism, who helped to harness, preserve and encourage traditional medicine and arts in Ghana.

He is described in many circles as a great patriot, an innovator, a visionary, medical doctor, traditionalist, a Pan Africanist and a herbalist. He was the first Ghanaian to receive a government scholarship to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in London.

His love and passion for traditional medicine due to its therapeutic effects caught the attention of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and by collaborative efforts, the Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR) was established at Akwapem-Mampong in 1975 to facilitate and coordinate scientific research work on Ghanaian medicinal plants.

Time may not allow me to tell you all about this unsung hero, whom I personally refer to as the Leonardo da Vinci of his time because of how he demonstrated excellence in various disciplines, especially in arts and science. You may wonder, why the peaceful spirit of such a man buffets me. Did I do something wrong to him? Was I the one who killed him? Or was I having a diabolic intention against the renowned Physician? Certainly not. Trust me, I have never met him before. But, anytime the thoughts of how our generation have maligned the legacy that this great Apostle set for us, it always sends chills down my spine.

History has it that, after practicing conventional medicine for a while, Dr. Oku Ampofo started collaborating with some traditional healers in harnessing and documenting the medicinal properties of plants that we have around us. He later opened a small outpatient clinic at Mampong-Akuapem, where he used herbal preparations to treat patients who visited his clinic.

Though traditional healers and conventional Doctors in terms of culture and modes of operation constitute an isolated system with little or no collaboration between them, this great Apostle defied the odds. He teamed up with some traditional healers to explore the healing prowess of plants especially in areas where western medicine is limited.

In our current era, there seems to be a battle of superiority and claim of relevance between medical practitioners and traditional healers. The former thinks, traditional healers did not undergo any formal training hence are not professionals and their services result in so many medical complications. The latter on the other hand also thinks medical practitioners treat people with ‘poisons’ and are incompetent since they are able to treat cases which medical officers find difficult to.

The tension is so high that some advice their clients not to patronize the service of the other. This is very unfortunate.

Some patients during history taking at the outpatient department lie of not taking any herbal preparation due to the fear of being chastised. I will not condone self-medication or late referral, either in the orthodox or traditional healing setting most especially when diagnosis is not made. Yet, it will be inappropriate for some medical officers and nurses to entirely condemn herbal medicine use, but rather those obtained from unlicensed individuals and unregulated centres.

Collaborative treatment and timely referral of patients was the gospel this great Apostle preached. He demonstrated that the role of conventional medicine is not to refute the essence of traditional medicine but to collaborate with it in areas needed for the wellbeing of patients. It will be imperative if our health sector invest in identifying traditional healers who on the basis of views of clients and proven clinical data, can be recognized as competent in managing certain diseases or illnesses and have an effective collaboration with these healers.

For example, an orthodox hospital can collaborate with a herbal centre known with specialties in certain areas of care like bone setting for accident victims instead of opting for amputation in some cases. Some herbal centres have also shown competence in the management of some disease conditions such as stroke, diabetes and prostate enlargement.

There is a great need for a mutual understanding and an interpersonal relationship between these two cultures to promote due referrals. Traditional healers should respect the limit of their practice and refer appropriately and not act out of over-confidence or greed to prevent avoidable health complications. Mainstream health workers should not hesitate to collaborate with traditional healers for effective management of peculiar cases. In this pandemic, effective collaboration is needed more than ever.

“To be civilized and complete, we must accept scientific enlightenment, and our traditional heritage each in its proper place. Neglect of either is disastrous. Science without tradition can produce technicians but not cultured men; tradition without science can breed learned but not rational men.” Cyrus Gordon (1968).

The Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR), formerly known as the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine located at Akwapem-Mampong, is one of the legacies of this distinguished Apostle. This centre has the potential of generating wealth for the country and producing safe, effective and quality natural products which meets international standards.

Unfortunately, CPMR is plagued with so many challenges and neglects such as funding for research, inadequate infrastructure to serve as research laboratories and inadequate support from the Ministry of Health in terms of medical equipment and supplies.

Ghana spends so much on importation of pharmaceutical products while just at our backyard are nature’s own gift (plants) with exceptional therapeutic effects awaiting to be researched and utilized. An establishment of a Traditional Medicine Research Development Fund will go a long way to help mobilize sustainable resources to improve and strengthen plant medicine research in the country. CPMR per its human resources is capable of rubbing shoulders with other similar research centres around the world in finding a cure for the novel Coronavirus, but it’s very unfortunate the lack of necessary logistics cripple it to do more.

These are just few of the contributions made by Dr. Oko Ampofo which I’ve highlighted on. As a country, we have the responsibility to protect and build on the rich legacies and excellent virtues which great patriots of old left for us in order to experience the development we all desire.