Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday, that legislation is being drafted to regulate the herbal medicine industry, although the drawing up and eventual passing of the law could take years. At present, only pharmaceutical drugs are regulated under the Food and Drugs Act.
A call by independent senator Subhas Ramkhelawan in Parliament last Tuesday has sparked debate on the efficacy and danger of herbal medicines being advertised as cures for cancer, diabetes and other major diseases. Some herbalists have rejected Ramkhelawan's suggestion that they are scamming consumers.
Until the legislation is passed, Khan said that consumers can file relevant complaints with the Chemical, Food and Drugs Division (CFDD). Advertising that a product can cure certain non-communicable and metabolic diseases is an offence under Section 4(1) of the act.
Last year, the UK newspaper The Observer reported that the European Union had banned hundreds of herbal medicines and implemented strict registration and quality standards after decades of the industry being loosely governed. Naturopath and herbalist Philip Franco believes that many untrained herbalists are damaging the reputation of the entire alternative medicine industry.
As a member of the Natural Alternative Medicine Association (NAMA) and proprietor of Natural Balance Medical Centre, Franco has advocated the for inclusion of alternative medicine regulation to the Food and Drugs Act. Franco, who is licensed to practise in Canada and Australia, said the lack of regulation has hindered his ability to import quality drugs. He says the CFDD needs to pay closer attention to local manufacturers of herbal medicines.
Andrew Rahaman, president of the Pharmacy Board, is doubtful that the necessary research has been done on locally produced herbal medicines. He also observed that most locally produced herbal drugs are not packaged properly, which could have negative results on their effectiveness.
He added that some herbs contain both harmful and beneficial components which, if not purified correctly, could be deadly. However, Franco noted that one of the benefits of using herbal medicine is the "multitude of components," which he said lessens the likelihood of negative side effects.