Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are on the rise, and many that suffer from such health complications are turning to homemade herbal medicines for treatment.
One of the more popular traditional herbal medicine is called Regukamaha, made from the bark of a tree said to be found only in the deep jungles of Choiseul Province.
Margret Desi from Vure Village in North Choiseul travelled to Honiara when relatives told her that the demand for Regukamaha was high. She has been in Honiara for almost two weeks, selling the Regukamaha as a street vendor.
"I’m here to sell this traditional medicine, there is big demand here in Honiara. I sell SBD$70 dollars for the big bottles and SBD$30 dollars for the small bottles.
“My customers are not only local people but also people from outside Solomon Islands including Chinese and Filipinos, so I not just sell but I make good friends.
"The medicine helps with high blood, muscle pain, liver problem, general body pain, and other NCD related illness.
"Regukamaha is widely used in Choiseul by our ancestors, so we inherit this knowledge from generation to another generation,” Margaret says, holding up one of the bottles.
She says that the production process is not easy as she has to walk for hours scouting for the Regukamaha tree, which is often found deep inside the jungles.
“Once I extract the bark I return home and boil the bark in fresh water for 3 to 4 days, or at least until the water changes its colour. The important thing is to be sure my ratio is accurate, and this will be shown in the colour, so once I get the right colour than I bottle it for sell,” Margaret explained as she shakes one of the bottles to show the consistency of the colour.
Despite its popularity the health ministry says it is important that patients with NCD related health complications to stick with modern medication and to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
“There is no substitute for a good diet and taking medications as prescribed, especially if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, high blood, heart related problems or diabetes. We need to be clear that the only known medications for such ailments are those prescribed by doctors,” said a senior doctor at the diabetes centre at the national referral hospital.
“Not all traditional medicines work, and we keep telling our patients that it could be dangerous or even fatal if taken over a long period. We find that some of our patients develop liver problems, and we can say this is caused by such traditional medicines,” she said.
“We have told our patients not to mix modern and traditional medicine, as it can cause further health complications, what we know is no traditional medicine has cured any of the NCD related illnesses.”
An extensive research conducted in 2011 found that out of 291,444 adults in the Solomon Islands aged between 20–79 years of age 45,465 had diabetes – a startling 15.6% of the sample population.
The numbers have risen drastically in recent years, and in 2021 it is estimated that close to 20% of a similar sample size have diabetes.