Shortcomings of the Professional Association of Herbal Medicine Practitioners (GAMH) (Part II)

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The shortcomings of the Ghana Association of Medical Herbalists (GAMH) , the only professional association of herbal medicine practice in Ghana is  described in this article in accordance with the structure of an ideal professional association/body.

These include; Policy and Public affairs, Legal and governance, Education, Training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD), Membership and employer engagement, Research and Knowledge, International membership and affiliation, and Other factors.

EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (CPD)

A professional association is expected to set, maintain and monitor educational and professional qualifications for professionals within the association. The training of health professionals in Ghana usually involve different stages. Medical training in KNUST involves first 3 years of Bachelor of Science degree in human biology after which another 3 years of bachelor in surgery and medicine is embarked on at a teaching hospital. An induction ceremony is then conducted for people who go through the entire program successfully. The Ghana Medical Association’s (GMA) contribution either directly or indirectly through the Ghana Medical  and Dental council in the training process cannot be overlooked as it is their duty to ensure that each level of training of their professionals is critically looked at in the interest of the profession. Others like Medical Laboratory Science, and Herbal medicine involves 4 years Bachelor of Science degree and internship after which professional exams are organized by the professional/regulatory council and those who excel offered professional certification. For reasons stated in the first part of this article, the board membership of the Traditional Medicine Practice Council (TMPC) , the council that offers  certification to qualified Medical Herbalists does not extend to representatives from GAMH and as such GAMH’s involvement in the education and training of its members  right from the university to internship  and professional certification level is almost nonexistent. There have been irregularities with posting of interns, allowances for interns, professional examinations after internship, and induction ceremonies for new members. The TMPC,  a regulatory council for Traditional Medical Practitioners (TMP’s) by law with the controlling powers given to GHAFTRAM, a representative association of all TMP’s whose training isn’t formal/professional, controlling every aspect of the education and training of Medical Herbalists who are professionals.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training which is one of the programs organized by professional associations with support  from their regulatory body/council and other stakeholders,  is necessary  to update the professional practice. GAMH has so far been able to organize about three CPD’s for members  in 2014,  2015, and 2016 respectively with the help of TMPC and stakeholders  in the health field. CPD should be more frequent (at least yearly) to enhance any professional profession.

RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE

Members  of professional health association are expected to from time to time make researches about the various aspects of their practice. The professional association is expected to provide a means ( a Journal usually linked with the website) by which the researches of members are published to share knowledge to wide range of stakeholders  including policy makers and other health professionals. Ghana Medical  Journal (GMJ), Ghana Pharmaceutical Journal (GPJ),  for Ghana Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana respectively are few examples of professional Journals through which research and knowledge of members are shared. GAMH. does not have a Journal in place to help members, interns and students who research into different  areas  of herbal medicine practice  share knowledge acquired to improve the herbal medicine industry.

A professional association is expected to promote its practice through every legitimate means possible. This is done through public education either directly by the association or through stakeholders including students (herbal medical students at KNUST, etc) at the tertiary level. GAMH is trying its best with public education but their effort is still not enough as there are still  lots of misconceptions on the practice of herbal medicine, and herbal medicines. The Ghana Association of Medical Herbalists ( GAMH)  is expected to contribute to issues  that spring up  regarding herbal medicines  and the practice in general in Ghana usually through the media  to offer its  professional views  rather than leave it to members of GHAFTRAM who most of the time are  contacted to speak. These people ( GHAFTRAM) lack good foundation in medicine/health and pharmaceutical sciences  so therefore are unable to explain the issues well for other professionals in the health delivery system to understand and relate with. GAMH can change this by sharing its views through press releases on current issues on health regarding herbal medicines or herbal medicine practice in Ghana. The power of the media cannot be underestimated in the attempt to make GAMH relevant and recognized.

INTERNATIONAL MEMBERSHIP AND AFFILIATIONS

International membership and affiliations offers professionals in a common practice platforms to relate and share ideas to improve the practices in their countries. GAMH currently has no international membership/affiliation with professional associations natural medicine / herbal medicine practice  despite existence of such practices in countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and China, to mention a few. For instance, National Institute of Medical Herbalists, Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists, New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists, and North American Institute of Medical Herbalists are few professional associations for Medical Herbalists in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and North America respectively.

OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORS

WEBSITE– professional associations are expected to have current websites  to promote their activities. A typical professional website contains stuffs like constitution, information on executives, link to Journal, news update on practice, upcoming events/program, etc. The Ghana Association of Medical Herbalists (GAMH) does not  have a website to inform the public of its existence  and It’s activities.

NEED FOR TOTAL REBRANDING-  A total rebranding  by the professional association may be necessary to help promote the professional practice of herbal medicine in Ghana. There  have  always been issues about the professional name  “Medical Herbalist” chosen prior to the existence  of GAMH to conform with that used in the UK. It should be noted that the definition and perceptions associated  with the word “Herbalist” as a component of a professional name differs between both countries (Ghana and UK). The formal herbal medicine  training gives one all the knowledge  and skills needed  to diagnose common diseases the medical way and in addition broad knowledge on preparation, preservation, packaging, registration, prescription, and dispensation of different forms of herbal medicines that meets modern trend. A change of professional name from Medical Herbalist to say Herbal Medical Doctor (HMD) will instill more confidence and professional pride in the practice from students in the University level through to interns and practitioners. Most practitioners have refused to accept the title because the misconception associated with it.

By Bentil Emmanuel Asare Adusei
The writer holds a BSc in Herbal Medicine from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology