PLANS to regulate the herbal medicines sector — which has operated for a long time without much control — are at an advanced stage, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) has said.
BY WELLINGTON ZIMBOWA
The authority said the regulations have since been forwarded to the Ministry of Health and Child Care for approval.
This follows an influx of herbal medicines in the country with some traders claiming that they cure certain illnesses.
Some herbal distributors claim their herbs cure “over 100 diseases” including diabetes among other chronic ailments and liver dysfunctionalities.
MCAZ director-general, Gugu Mahlangu said the move was prompted by the unchecked flooding of herbals which now have a ready market in the country.
She said the move was designed to ensure public safety guided by the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act of 1997.
“People and institutions have just been bringing in their products and with the high demand of these herbs, we realised that this should not continue in the interest of public health,” she said. “We came up with our draft proposal of regulations that we uploaded on our website, and over a period of six months we engaged the public, including other health workers, for broad input in the promulgation of the regulations.”
Mahlangu added: “Subseque-ntly we came up with a dossier that we have since submitted to the Minister of Health and Child Care, David Parirenyatwa and we now await his signature.”
She urged the public to do away with the notion that “natural means safe”, advising cautious use of all non-conventional medicines, adding that “most of their components are yet to be scientifically established”.
Although Zimbabwe has its own range of herbs, few have penetrated the commercial market which is saturated with herbs from mainly Asia, South Africa and Tanzania.
The herbs range from capsules, lotions, teas and coffee. Some are said to cure erectile dysfunction.
Mahlangu said environmental factors affecting the plants during the growth stage, handling, as well as processing factors could interfere with the safety of herbs. The proposed regulations would help avoid contamination by setting up approved standards.
“The regulations will clearly set out a mechanism to guarantee the safety of herb users by enforcing the approval of herbs following an application process where manufacturers will have to submit a dossier stating where the herbs originate from or are manufactured, what it is they are expected to do and a sample of each herb,” she said.
“Proper labelling of herbal products, method of use as well as identification of any chemicals contained will be emphasised.
“We will also be carrying out biodiversity assessments on all herbs because these herbs are not purified in most cases, hence they can have harmful bacteria,” said Mahlangu. “In future if resources permit, we look forward to conducting heavy metals examination that will detect metals such as lead that the plant can pick up at growth and which can have adverse effects on health.”
The MCAZ director added: “We will also look forward to visiting countries of origin for these products in the same manner that we do site visits for conventional medicines before their registration in Zimbabwe.”
Mahlangu expressed concern over the smuggling of counterfeit drugs and other medicinal products — mainly for the veterinary drugs — through the Chirundu/Victoria Falls border posts which she said were never designated entry points for any medical products.
MCAZ warned players in the herbs sector to desist from making cure claims over their medicines saying this was in breach of the Medicines and Allied Substances Act (1997) as their products only play a complimentary role to conventional medication.