Syrians turn to herbal medicine amid drug crisis

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Following rising drug prices in opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria, many Syrians have started resorting to herbal medicine to treat illnesses. The Syrian Regime Ministry of Health has raised its prices twice in recent months – most recently in February.

Abu Abd al-Rahman, originally from the Idlib countryside, has been a specialist in herbal medicine for 18 years. “Phytotherapy is an alternative to modern scientific medicine, and it cannot be ignored. Over the past two years, the demand for herbal medicines has increased dramatically,” he told Al-Monitor.

He attributed the reasons for the growing demand to expensive medical consultations and overpriced medicines that do not take into account the harsh living conditions in the region. He said that alternative medicine – herbal remedies, natural ointments, cupping and acupuncture – is successful in treating some pathological conditions and surpasses modern medicine.

Abd al-Rahman noted, “I have treated many illnesses – even chronic illnesses such as diabetes, disc disease and heart disease – and patients have found positive results.”

He said he didn’t charge for a consultation, just the herbs he needed to make the medicine. “It’s relatively cheap and it doesn’t have the same dangerous side effects that chemical drugs have on the body.”

Abd al-Rahman added: “I sometimes find it difficult to find many medicinal herbs because we are confined to a small area in northwestern Syria and I cannot get the variety of herbs available in all the country. Some herbs are seasonal and some are difficult to grow in a mountainous environment like Idlib, and foresters sometimes charge a lot for these herbs.

Fatima al-Mohammed, a 40-year-old resident of Idlib, used herbal medicine to treat her disc injuries because she could no longer afford painkillers.

“I had a bad fall after which I started having pain in my lower back which then spread to my leg. I couldn’t feel my leg anymore and the pain was so unbearable that I couldn’t or walking or even sleeping,” she told Al-Monitor.

Mohammed said, “I saw two doctors. The first gave me medicine, injections and painkillers, but nothing worked. Then one day I was taken to another doctor by ambulance. After the scan, he scheduled urgent surgery because I had a herniated disc in my lower back. But I didn’t do the operation because I couldn’t afford it and I was afraid of possible post-operative complications and pain.

She noted, “I was told by some family members to see a specialist in herbal medicine, so I did and he gave me a natural recipe that consisted of a mixture of ginger oil and ginger fat. ‘lamb fondue’, to rub and massage the painful area. He also gave me nerve tonics and taught me back exercises to do at home.

Mohammed added: “A month and a half after starting the treatment, my condition improved by 80%; the pain is gone and I no longer need surgery.

An otolaryngologist who works in a private hospital in Idlib told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “Patients who cannot afford medicine and those who suffer from certain diseases that can be treated with natural herbs and ointments, such as cough, bronchitis and kidney pain. , are usually those who resort to herbal medicine.

He said: “Despite the benefits of herbal medicine, which has recently gained the trust of patients, herbal treatments are often time consuming and do not provide rapid recovery as modern drugs do.”

Hassan Ibrahim, director of the Syrian opposition-affiliated Azaz Health Directorate in the northern countryside of Aleppo, told Al-Monitor: “The benefits of alternative medicine and its effectiveness in curing certain diseases are undeniable. . However, there are chronic diseases that require accurate medical examinations and diagnosis, and their treatment can only be managed by modern scientific medicine with the necessary chemical drugs or surgery.

Talking about expensive consultations and medicines, which are the main reason why patients resort to alternative medicine, Ibrahim said: “The Health Directorate is looking to organize and unify prices in the coming months, in cooperation with the directorates of the other domains. There will be a list that will determine the price of consultations adapted to each medical specialty.

He noted: “About 80% of the drugs consumed in northwestern Syria are produced by the regime’s government laboratories, so any increase in drug prices is the fault of the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, 10% is produced locally in opposition areas and 10% is imported from Turkey.

Ibrahim concluded: “The Directorate of Health has imposed several measures to control drug prices in pharmacies and warehouses, and will soon launch an electronic application accessible to all to reveal the price of each drug to avoid price manipulation. .

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