Father Anselm Adodo is the founder of one of Africa’s leading herbal company, Pax Herbal. Fr Anslem Adodo whose work in alternative medicine spans over 20 years, with extensive research that pushes for the recognition of the immense benefit of exploring Africa’s natural products and plants in the treatment of common and complex diseases. Pax Herbal has also been credited as the only herbal health company with the highest number of accredited health supplements with The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control
In this chat with Whoot Africa, Fr Anselm Adodo shares about his work with Pax Herbal and the journey so far.
Can you share a little with Whoot Africa about Anselm Adodo and your work as the founder of Pax herbal?
I was born in Akure Ondo State in the late 1960s. Growing up, my parents were educationalist. My father had a rich library which exposed me to reading the works of many famous authors and further helped my inquisitive nature to learn and acquire knowledge. In 1987, I joined a Catholic Monastery in Ewu, a rural community in Edo State, Nigeria. In 1997, I started a small herbal garden in the Monastery where I lived to treat common illnesses and ailments and the results were astounding. A move that later birth the Pax Herbal Clinic & Research Laboratories and has gone on to become one of the biggest best-equipped, best-organized and most modern herbal research centres in Africa.
Within a record five-year period, over 33 of our herbal supplements produced were approved by NAFDAC (Nigeria’s Food & drug regulation agency), making PAX the organization with the highest number of NAFDAC approved products and best manufacturing practice in Nigeria, and is rated as the front-runner of an African herbal/cultural renaissance.
What inspired your move into the research and development of alternative medicines in Africa?
I participated in a workshop in the northern part of Nigeria, alongside some of the best orthodox and unorthodox medicine practitioners from Nigeria, Europe and Asia. And for one week we deliberated and I realized that the perception of religion was a big barrier to alternative medicine as many people associate alternative medicine with fetishism and occultism.
I discovered that my status as a religious figure, a Catholic priest belonging to a highly conservative and orthodox order, puts me in a unique position to change people’s understanding of traditional medicine. And I did. As I would later discover, the issue is far deeper than just medicine, physical well-being or alleviation of pain. Medicine is about culture, identity, politics, behaviour, worldview and education. Medicine is conditioned by how people perceive their bodies in the context of society. Medicine is as much a culture as it is a science, if not more.
Your work with Pax herbal spans almost 20years, tell us about the journey so far, the challenges and victories of pushing for the recognition and development of alternative medicines in Nigeria over the years?
Herbal medicine used to be identified with witchcraft, sorcery, ritualism and all sorts of fetish practices. Because of this, African Christians went to traditional healers in secret, and the educated elite and religious figures did not want to be associated in any way with traditional African medicine. I conceived the idea of Pax herbal as a tool for changing the concept of traditional medicine from an esoteric practice by mysterious, fearsome old medicine men to that of a useful, profitable, rational and explicable venture. The goal of Pax herbal is to change the face of African traditional medicine.
You mentioned your Laboratories and research centre in Nigerian being one of the largest in Africa and also having 34 herbal supplements already approved by NAFDAC, one would ask, how are you working to incorporate traditional research with conventional medicine to fighting bigger diseases that threaten African’s every day?
Pax herbals is one of the very few herbal manufacturing company left in Nigeria that is locally producing its herbal medicines, despite the harsh economic climate that makes it easier and more profitable to be an importer rather than a manufacturer. It is no wonder that the Nigerian market is flooded with herbal products from China, India and other Asian countries, and from Europe. By so doing, Nigeria is creating wealth abroad and promoting poverty at home. At Pax herbals, we believe that the only way to sustainable development is for Africa to produce what it consumes and consume what it produces. But to produce, one must innovate.
At Pax herbals, we cultivate our own herbs directly and also through accredited local out growers. We know the herbs, where they live, where they grow and how they grow. We know their names, their families and their stories. We journey with the herbs from the farm, to the collection and verification rooms, the processing factory, to the final product, through NAFDAC laboratories, and to the market. We continue the journey by monitoring how the finished products interact with the society, the reactions as well as the counter-reactions
We have already designed a clinical trial proposal for our Malaria medicine called ‘Pax Malatreat’ in partnership with the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency, Lagos State and Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State, both Federal government institutions. The protocol and details of the first stage of the trial has been carefully prepared and submitted to the relevant authorities for ethical clearance. As soon as the ethical clearance is granted, the trial process will begin. This will be the first clinical trial of an herbal formulation for Malaria in Africa. This is a good example of how herbal medicine practitioners can collaborate with conventional medicine. At Pax herbals, our principle is: ‘if it works, prove it’. Majority of Africans believe that herbal medicine work. We at Pax herbals want to go a step further to prove it. Similar work on Diabetes, hypertension and Cancer is in progress.
You recently partnered with the Institute of African studies at the University of Ibadan, to design a new MA and PhD curricula for Traditional African Medicine; what has the reception being like, are Nigerian students interested in studying alternative medicines considering how underfunded conventional medicine is in Nigeria?
The traditional medicine curricula are a millstone for the practice of traditional medicine in Nigeria. One of the major challenges of Traditional medicine is that it has not moved from the realm of the subjective to the objective, from the implicit to the explicit knowledge. It is important that we preserve this vast body of indigenous knowledge in writing, thereby making it explicit, so that it can be passed on to others. It is crucial that traditional medicine evolved from implicit knowledge to explicit knowledge, from knowledge embodied in individual local healers to a communiversity of knowledge that is available to all.
Most often, it is difficult to separate the practice of herbal medicine as a discipline from the personality of the herbal practitioner. In conventional medicine, if a patient dies after series of treatments and medications, people do not blame or condemn the practice of medicine as a discipline, or declare it ineffective. It just means that a particular case is not successful. If a Medical doctor makes mistakes or acts contrary to the principle of doing no harm, or is negligent, he will be penalized by the relevant authorities. But his mistake of inefficiency does not mean that the discipline of medicine is bad. In Traditional medicine, people often fail to make this distinction. They judge and condemn the practice of herbal medicine itself when an individual practitioner defaults or is negligent. This is partly due to lack of strong control and regulatory system that ensures disciple. On the other hand, lack of documentation, literacy and emphasis on knowledge sharing or research, has retarded traditional medicine as a field of discipline. The curricula in TAM will hopefully help to contribute towards solving this problem.
This is a big challenge, as the University expects that the course will fund itself. Such commercialization of education is not ideal. For now, there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to make the program work. And we will make it work.
Looking back to 2014, the Ebola crises took Africa to the cleaners and back, and showed our level of dependency on foreign research and lack of preparedness to fight the deadly disease, despite reports that the vaccines used in the US and UK are sourced from African plants, what are your plans to engage the government to help prevent further deaths and developing vaccines out here that will be beneficial to Nigerians and Africans?
There have always been many discussions on how to improve healthcare services in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Hundreds of conferences and health workshops take place almost daily in different parts of the country to discuss ways and means of improving the health of Nigerians. Proposals and recommendations from these conferences and workshops litter the offices of the state and federal ministries of health in Nigeria. It is therefore clear that the Nigerian government is not in short supply of ideas and proposals on how to improve the health of its people. An analysis of most of these proposals and recommendations reveals the following:
- Over 95% of the recommendations come from medical practitioners who are very much part of the current healthcare bureaucratic system and therefore are linked either directly or indirectly with the politics and problems of healthcare in Nigeria.
- Most of those who make the proposals and recommendations on health reform in Nigeria are government-paid officials who benefit from the status quo and are likely to resist any reform that threatens their monopolistic power and influence.
- Almost all the proposals use worn-out phrases and sentences that indicate unwillingness to think outside the box, but simply repeat proposals straight from the textbook
Nigerian leaders need to develop a health system built on indigenous as well as exogenous health belief systems, culture and spirituality, a worldview-based health system, so to speak; otherwise, the health ideals will continue to fail. The neglect of indigenous knowledge is reflected in all facets of public life: economics, politics, education and healthcare. We will continue to put pressure on government to be more innovative and proactive in finding local solutions to local problems.
If you had someone from the Senate health committee or the Minister of Health reading this interview, what would you want to say to them about the health sector and how we can make it better?
They know what to do. They have all the information they need to make things better. Africa is not lacking in ideas and plans about projects. The implementation is the problem. To implement, one needs courage, sincerity of purpose and a great degree of selflessness. Above all, strong institutions are essential. Without these, nothing will happen.
Health is big business, even in the western world. What are your plans in finding the right partnerships to push through large scale research and development if the local support isn’t there just yet?
We will continue to work hard to expand our research outreach locally. We have done very well so far without any external help. There are lots of resources locally that we can explore. Eventually, the right partners will come. For us, it is important that we work with partners who share our philosophy and vision.
When you look at your work over the last few years, what’s next for Pax herbal? What more should we expect?
The Nigerian market is flooded with herbal supplements from different parts of the world: Asia, Europe, America. We at Pax herbal want to reverse this trend by producing herbal supplements that can compete with foreign ones. We also want to have our products available in every continent. That is our dream for the next few years.
You are pushing for change and impact in the health sector, any words of wisdom for young people who hope to make a change with their works and lives as well?
Having been at the forefront of championing the official integration of Traditional herbal medicine into national healthcare system for over 10 years now, I have come to realize that the future of healthcare in general, and African Herbal medicine in particular, does not lie in unrealistic policies and proposals to government, or outdated thesis and knowledge that doesn’t conform with today’s research standards. The future lies in the hands of those obscure professionals who are ready to explore new areas of knowledge, who are not afraid to think outside the box and take the risk of challenging existing ideas and hypotheses; the future lies in the hands of the farmer diligently inventing new methods of cultivating land in the remote farmlands, and those who refuse to contribute to the continuous decline and deterioration of our healthcare system. The future, I dare to say, lies in the hands of me and you, ordinary men and women of Nigeria. Real power lies in the hands of men and women of vision, of ideas, of imagination, and of courage. To the young people of Africa, I say: do not compromise your dream, your vision, and your goals.
What would you want to be remembered for when your name is mentioned decades from now?
I leave that for those who will be alive at the time. For now, I just want to do the best I can to make Africa a better place.