Her business was motivated by her own fight with endometriosis. Harriet Chebet, an investment banker, now owns a company whose mandate is to provide physical, emotional and psychological support to Kenya’s urban population through her brand of traditional wellness products.
After seeking, for years, without success, a solution for her condition, the London School of Economics educated entrepreneur decided to try out a traditional herbal solution that almost provided immediate relief.
In a span of over five years since she stumbled on this herb, the initial group of friends she shared samples of the herbal decoction with has grown into a movement that is now a thriving business with a following of thousands of loyal customers and followers across the country.
The World Health Organisation estimates that about 80 percent of the population in Africa, Asia and Latin America use traditional medicines for primary health care while around 100 million people are believed to use traditional, complementary or herbal medicine in the European Union.
“As more people migrate to urban areas and lose access to this vital service largely domiciled in the rural countryside but are still unable to access adequate primary healthcare in urban and peri-urban areas, it is becoming increasingly necessary to modernise, transform and change perceptions around the practice and consumption of traditional medicine to make it accessible to urban populations,” she says.
Affordable traditional herbal
It is this disenfranchised section of the population that Harriet’s Botanicals has been dedicated to serving through a range of proven, modern and affordable traditional herbal treatments.
“I have since then been certified as a herbal cultural practitioner. We worked with the University of Nairobi to test the products, and I received a certificate from the Ministry of Culture, which regulates herbal medicine. Since then I have received patents, copyrights and trademarks to protect my inventions and formulas,” she says.
Currently, her company is producing three products.
Arorwet, the company’s flagship product, is a decoction of eight essential herbs and alleviates digestive complications, the pains associated with cysts, fibroids, the menstrual cycle, tubal blockages, and hormonal imbalance, whereas Tendwet contains six essential herbs that improve prostate health, sperm quality and also works as an aphrodisiac.
Sagawaita is a well-known tree with anti-viral properties used in the treatment and management of flu and flu related symptoms and various infections in the upper respiratory tract (URT) and is prescribed to all ages in different dosages.
They retail at Sh1,500 for a one-litre bottle and are distributed through a chain of 19 retail outlets in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Eldoret.
“We have over 20 employees and work in collaboration with various stakeholders,” explains the entrepreneur.
From the ethical sourcing of feed stocks, the sustainable harvesting of ethnobotanical resources, community engagement, product development and marketing and regulatory affairs, hers is a comprehensive strategy aimed at transforming and mainstreaming the practice and consumption of traditional medicines in Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora.
Having gained a deep understanding of the sexual and reproductive health challenges facing millions of men and women in urban and peri-urban areas and the emotional and psychological pain that comes with it, the company is refining its service offerings with a view to incorporating emotional and psychological wellness to offer its customers greater support.
“The emotional and psychological pain and social stigma that arise out of the inability to sire or have children, the loss of productivity due to prolonged period pain or the loss of self-esteem that often afflicts middle-aged men at the onset of erectile dysfunction is itself now a social problem of pandemic proportions,” she observes.
Driven by lifestyle changes and consumption habits, air and water pollution and toxins in the food chain, these factors expose urban populations to greater risks of health complications than do their rural counterparts.
She notes that the company is raising the national awareness of the efficacy and potential of traditional medicine through a targeted marketing campaign and effective branding that continues to attract the interest of Kenyans countrywide and in the diaspora.
The brand is now a household name in some sections of the country and is steadily changing the conversation from the traditional issues associated with traditional medicine beyond efficacy and hygiene, to matters around dosage and drug interaction, for example.
The company’s work and progress has not escaped the attention of the local medical fraternity, a section of which is now collaborating with Harriet’s Botanicals in piloting programmes that will incorporate traditional herbal medicines into allopathic treatment regimens that will be developed over time to carry out extensive clinical trials and drug interaction studies.
The company has also achieved the rare milestone in the development and mainstreaming of traditional medicine in Kenya by recently having its three products protected by patent under existing intellectual property laws through a utility model, a limited form of patent protection.
Chebet says that her company plans to take its operations to the next level by strengthening its intellectual, technical and logistical capabilities and growing its distribution networks through a series of financial, professional and commercial partnerships in the next one to two years.