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Acupuncture healing needles penetrate Nigeria

Chinese acupuncture is gradually creeping into the Nigerian medical sector as part of the alternative solutions to orthodox medicine. How far can it go?

With eyes closed, a middle aged man lay on his back. There were two long needles stuck into his temples, one on each. There were several more stuck on his hands and chest. With needles in his head, he seemed strangely at peace. He opened his eyes and smiled.

He was being treated for headache, he said, calmly. He had been suffering from severe headaches for years and had visited several hospitals for treatment without success. Finally, he decided to try the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture and says he has been getting better.

It was at a small acupuncture hospital in Garki, Abuja. It is run by two Chinese. One a professor, the other a doctor (all of acupuncture). They have been practising this ancient Chinese science in Nigeria for close to a decade now, they inform.

But in recent years, this practice has grown and was gaining acceptance in Nigeria.

The man mentioned above, Francis A. Jimoh, a civil servant resident in Abuja, says he has been undertaking acupuncture treatment for close to two years now and was very enthusiastic in commending the practice. But how effective is acupuncture as an alternative treatment?

 “Acupuncture is very good,” says Dr. Ko Jon in her stuttering English. She is one of the Chinese nationals who run the acupuncture hospital in Abuja. The other is Prof. Ju Kyong Dok. He hardly speaks any English though.

They claim that acupuncture is very effective in curing epilepsy, headaches, paralysis, hypertension, diabetes, ulcer, and even impotency. The list of claims is very long. But even then, Dr. Ko modestly admitted that they don’t cure everything.

 “We don’t claim to treat what we can’t. The only thing we don’t treat here is skin diseases, but we can tackle everything,” she says confidently. She goes on to recount the case of a man who was bed-ridden for two years before he was brought to the hospital. Using acupuncture, suctions and massage, she says, they were able to treat him and before he left, he was singing and dancing, she recounts proudly, demonstrating the man’s moves.

But long before Dr. Ko and Prof Dok, acupuncture, it was said, began some two-three thousand years before Christ, some researchers put it as far back as the Neolithic age. Early practitioners of the science were said to have used improvised needles made of stones, and as science evolved, silver and gold needles were used. Now, stainless steel needles are generally used. One of the earliest stone needles called a bianshi was recently discovered in Mongolia. The practice was said to have started when some Chinese soldiers were cured with crude needles from chronic afflictions that hitherto had defied treatment. The practice became popular in subsequent years, having been encouraged by the Chinese ruling class.  Acupuncture is based on the principle that the body has several channels known as the meridians through which energy flows. The insertion of needles along these meridians on certain points and at specific depths controls the flow of this energy or blocks the channel in order to produce the desired effects.

Research by some American scientists shows that acupuncture stimulates or inhibits the release of some vital substances (known as qi in mandarin) in the body by inserting needles at specific points. Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the immune system. It also has affects on circulation, blood pressure, rhythm and stroke volume of the heart, secretion of the gastric acid, and production of red and white cells. It also stimulates the release of a variety of hormones that help the body to respond to injury and stress.

From China, the practice spread to the rest of Asia and eventually Europe in the 16th century when Portuguese explorers stumbled on and reported it. But at that time, the practice was encountering a steady decline in China. The growth and popularity of herbal treatment retarded the popularity of acupuncture until it was associated with the lower classes and illiterate practitioners. Eventually, in 1822, the Chinese emperor issued an edict prohibiting the practice of acupuncture, saying it was unfit for the nobility.

But in the last 40 years (starting from the 70s) acupuncture, seamlessly blending with contemporary technology, has regained it popularity and, as Dr. Ko explained, there is even an acupuncture university in China which she had to attend for seven years to learn the practice.

“I went to Chinese Acupuncture University for seven years,” she says. “I practised in Russia for 13 years, Nigeria seven years now.” The walls of her neat office are decorated with charts of the human body displaying the acupuncture points and meridians for adults and children. There are modern gadgets all around her which she is proud to display.

“Now, we don’t only use acupuncture, we use suction as well, we use electricity on the needles instead of twirling them with the hand,” she says, displaying a set of plastic suction tubes and stashes of disposable needles packed in foils. They were thin and long, some as long as three and half centimetres. Most modern acupuncturists use disposable stainless steel needles of fine diameter (0.007 to 0.020 in (0.18 to 0.51 mm)), sterilized with ethylene oxide or by autoclave. These needles are far smaller in diameter (and therefore less painful) than hypodermic injection needles since they do not have to be hollow for purposes of injection.

Jimoh narrated his experience thus: “I used to have 12 or 14 on me for more than 2 hours or so,” he says smiling. “Initially, when they are putting it you feel some pain but when they have done it you don’t feel anything. I can stay with this for 12 hours. I want to get well so I don’t allow it to bother me,” he added.

For three years he has come for regular treatments. He started experiencing chronic headaches in 2002 and claims the ailment defied conventional treatment by reputable doctors. But having been introduced to acupuncture by a friend, he has now recommended more than twelve people, including some family members.

Hajiya Hadiza Hassan, another patient at the hospital, said she was introduced to acupuncture by a prominent female politician from Katsina state. She started experiencing painful pricking sensation on parts of her body when she is sleeping. It was discovered that she had a defect in her spinal cord which puts pressure on some of her nerves when she lies down. She dreaded sleep and lost wait rapidly.

“I went to the national hospital and was given an appointment with a neurologist,” she says, “for several months I have been going there for treatment but with little improvement until my friend suggested I try acupuncture. There has been immediate improvement.” Hajiya Hadiza is on a month long treatment course and says she is now sleeping well and regaining some weight. For her, acupuncture is the find of the year except for some minor issues.

When contacted on the telephone, about the medical efficacy of Acupuncture, Dr. Shola Aiyenbode of Moufay Clinics, Kaduna explained that “Acupuncture is a Chinese device which is used to treat patients but strictly speaking, it is not within the realm of conventional medicine, and it is not part of the conventional medical curriculum. However, that does not mean it is not effective. You can only get to know how effective it is if you contact someone whose ailment has been cured by the device,” he said.

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