Hing Pal Singh is among the dozens of patients who visit the Oriental Chinese Herbal Clinic in Nairobi daily.
Singh, 85, has been suffering from spinal problems for five years and is now trying herbs.
“There is a slight difference,” Singh said. “…It’s only been a week now. It will take at least another 12-15 sessions. Then we’ll see how it goes.”
According to a 2020 study by Beijing-based international consulting firm Development Reimagined, traditional Chinese medicine is gaining popularity in Africa.
February 2020 article written by a Beijing think tank researcher and published in the government China daily said such traditional medicine would “boost the Chinese economy, contribute to global health, and be a stab in the arm for China’s soft power.”
However, traditional doctors such as Sultan Mantendechere say patients are overlooking the potential harm some herbal remedies can cause, especially if they are used too often or at too high doses.
“They do work in a range of cases,” Mantendescher said.
Although the safety and effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine is still debated around the world, herbalists such as Li Chuan continue to gain popularity among those seeking alternative medicines.
Li said that some of his patients have benefited from the alleged COVID-19 remedies, although there is little scientific evidence that they can help against the disease.
“Many people are buying our herbal tea to fight COVID-19,” Li said. “The results are good.”
Environmentalists fear that the rise of traditional Chinese medicine will encourage poachers to target endangered wildlife such as rhinoceros and some snakes used to make potions.
Daniel Wanjuki, an ecologist and lead expert at Kenya’s National Environment Authority, said “People are saying that rhino horn can actually be used as an aphrodisiac, which has led to the near extinction of rhinoceros species in Kenya and in Africa as a whole.” .
Economical – if effective
According to national statistics, Kenya spends about $2.7 billion annually on healthcare.
Kenyan economist Ken Gichinga said herbal medicines could significantly reduce medical costs in Africa if proven effective.
“Africans spend quite a lot of money traveling to countries like India and the UAE for medical treatment,” and they would benefit if herbal medicine “can provide more natural and cost-effective health care,” he said.
In 2021, Kenya’s national regulator, the Board of Pharmacy and Poisons, approved the sale of Chinese herbal health products in the country. Practitioners like Li hope that more countries will approve Chinese herbal medicine in the future.