Tanzania Approves Herbs To Treat Erectile Dysfunction

DAR ES SALAAM — As rain sprinkled on the muddy soil, Patrick Nyembo and his wife Agnes waded on the mud-soaked pathway to a remote village in western Tanzania as they desperately try to reach a herbalist whose herbs are believed to treat a very embarrassing problem.

A man walks past a poster advertising treatment for male impotence.

Distraught, the 45-year-old teacher in the bustling capital city of Dodoma had for years been harbouring a disturbing secret, no one knew except his wife. He had erectile dysfunction (ED) – a health condition making him unable to sustain erection during sexual intercourse.

However, last year Nyembo heard from a friend that a traditional healer in the western Tabora region was offering treatment to such patients using herbal extracts.

“I was excited to meet the herbalist. My wife and I travelled all the way to Tabora and when we met him I told him about my problem. He made me drink a dose of a slightly bitter concoction which completely healed me,” Nyembo told Health Policy Watch in an interview.

Nyembo, whose love affair was in tatters, is among many men in Tanzania who have used traditional herbs to treat ED partly caused by hormonal imbalance due to lifestyle changes.

The herbal remedies have evoked a glimmer of hope among men suffering from ED also known as male impotence, as the Tanzania government approved herbal drug as treatment for the problem.

“I’ve spent a lot of money seeking help for this problem. I didn’t know an herbal drug could solve it once and for all,” said Nyembo proudly.

After years of dilly-dallying, the Tanzania Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children in 2018 endorsed a herbal drug called Ujana (Swahili for youthfulness) to be used in clinics across the country for treating erectile dysfunction.

The new drug, whose dosage ranges from 300mg-700mg daily, depending on the severity of the problem, has been proven effective in treating ED, which doctors associate with the changing lifestyles and nutritionally imbalanced diets, which result in an extremely low level of testosterone.

Herbal remedies in Tanzania are governed by the Traditional and Alternative Medicine policy, which requires herbalists to be registered by the relevant authorities.

Ruth Suza, the registrar of the Alternative Health Practices Council of Tanzania, said the new policy guidelines on herbal remedies is part of government’s broader push to integrate herbs into the conventional healthcare system, thus preventing reckless distribution of fake herbs.

“Many people claim to treat ED but not all of them are genuine healers. Some of them are doing it for making money,” Suza said.

Traditional and alternative medicines are important elements of healthcare in Tanzania. Despite increasing access to modern medicines, the majority of Tanzanians still use herbal remedies for treating various diseases. There are more than 80,000 herbalists operating in Tanzania, according to the government.

Ester Innocent, a researcher at the Institute of Traditional Medicine at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, said the Ujana herbs, which were tested and endorsed by the chief government chemist, are potentially useful for improving men’s blood flow during sexual stimulation to facilitate a successful intercourse.

Martin Massawe, a 33-year-old radio producer who lives in Dar es Salaam with his wife Nora and a young son, realised something was wrong two years ago.

“Things were not the same and our love life deteriorated. We tried to ignore it but the situation worsened,” said Nora, a kindergarten teacher.

As Massawe became increasingly worried when he repeatedly failed to perform sexual intercourse, that’s when his wife Nora advised him to seek medical help.

Last year, the couple made an appointment to see Dr. Ali Zehri, a urologist at Aga Khan hospital in Dar es Salaam, who specializes in helping men with difficulty getting and keeping an erection. The doctor examined Massawe’s penile blood vessels with a duplex Doppler machine to ascertain if he had any blood flow problems.

“I was very shocked when the doctor told me I had erectile dysfunction. He calmed me down saying the condition is treatable,” he said.

According to Massawe, Zehri advised him to use herbal remedies recently approved by the government as part of his treatment and asked him to make lifestyle changes.

“I started taking the herbs and within days I started to see some improvements and at last situation returned to normal,” said Massawe.

Erectile dysfunction is a serious problem in Tanzania, mostly affecting middle aged and older men, but doctors say an increasing number of young men develop it.

A study conducted by Muhimbili University College of Health and Allied Sciences in 2013 suggests there’s an increase in the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in the population, with 55.1 percent of diabetic patients attending diabetic clinic found to have some form of erectile dysfunction.

“Sexual stimulation usually supplies more blood to the penis through the arteries, causing it to erect,” said Zehri.

According to him even men in relatively good health usually develop stress or substance induced ED, which is caused by anxiety or too much drinking of alcohol.

However, Zehri said, Ujana herbs enhance the effects of nitric oxide, a natural chemical in the body that relaxes the penis muscles and increases blood flow.

“This herbal remedy works well. Once the patient regains his erectile function, his confidence improves,” said Dr Zehri.

While Ujana is hailed as panacea for men with erectile dysfunction, critics say unscrupulous herbalists take advantage of its popularity to rip off their customers by giving them unapproved herbs purporting it to be Ujana.

Globally, male impotence is also affecting many people. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine noted that 1 in 4 men under the age of 40 who sought help for ED actually suffered from the condition. Almost half had severe ED.

According to a Massachusetts Male Aging Study, it is estimated that more than 300 million men globally will suffer from the condition in 2025.

While most ED patients are effectively treated with conventional and alternative herbal medicines, studies also show that, for some, the disorder is a sign of heart disease.

Professor Mohamed Janabi, the director of Jakaya Kikwete heart institute in Dar es Salaam, estimates that ED is a cardiac risk factor in 10 to 20 percent of patients who do not have other risk factors for heart disease.

While the risk factors are typically associated with older men, ED is often the only cardiac risk factor in a younger man. “When young men have erectile dysfunction, we can see that as a sign for potential heart problems,” Janabi said.

Moreover, Zehri said, irrespective of what type of ED men suffer, the must see the doctor as soon as possible.

For Massawe, Ujana herbal medicine has proved effective in treating his condition. Although he learned that to prevent future risk of developing heart problems, he has to make lifestyle changes such as going to the gym, eating healthier meals and reducing intake of alcoholic beverages.

He routinely goes for a checkup. He and his wife, Nora, are expecting their second child in May.

“One lesson I have learnt in life is that, don’t lose hope, for there is a solution for every single problem,” said Massawe.


Image Credits: Muhidin Issa Michuzi.

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