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COVID-19 cures fear of herbal medicines

But safety concerns remain

Uganda develops five herbal drugs to manage covid-19, was one of the main headlines in news media on June 08. The accompanying story listed the five products: Warbugia Ugandensis, Cypress oil, Cypress herbal tea, propolis tincture and propolis throat spray.

The story said the drugs had been developed by Dr. Grace Nambatya Kyeyune and her team at the Natural Chemotherapeutic’s Research Institute (NCRI) of the Ministry of Health to “assist in the treatment and management of COVID-19”.

The main question of course is what does “assist in the treatment and management of COVID-19” mean? Is such a drug a cure? If not what is it?

Dr. Nambatya told journalists that when used in combination, preliminary findings show that the drugs are able to treat COVID-19 related cough, clear the airway which enables people to breathe on their own and be able to kill the virus by perforating it. She recommended the products as safe for persons undergoing home-based care.

“The products were developed alongside the therapeutic trial which aimed at finding safe and efficacious drugs to fight COVID,” she said, “All the products have shown to be effective and some have been notified by the National Drug Authority. But as this goes on, people have been using these products and they have shown to be efficacious.”

Nambatya, a medicinal chemist, won first prize in the 2021 National Cultural Heritage Awards by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda for her work in changing perceptions on the use of herbal medicine. She is the lead investigator on a clinical trial of a government-sponsored locally developed drug that is said to treat COVID-19 called UBV-01N COVID-19.

President Yoweri Museveni in January launched the clinical trial of the drug which will involve 128 COVID-19 patients admitted to Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala.

The drug which is a natural chemotherapeutic has undergone scientific approvals, according to NCRI who are the product developers.

Although UBV-01N COVID-19 has not had any clinical trial, at its launch the Minister of Health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said the product had gone through quality assurance steps and got all the necessary certificates and approval for use in human beings from the National Drug Authority, Uganda National Bureau of Standards, and National Council of Science and Technology.

“I congratulate Ugandan scientists for coming up with the treatment for COVID-19 which will bring smiles to Ugandan patients,” President Museveni said. “You must build an independent Uganda. We are working on the vaccine and treatment by ourselves.”

The clinical trial of the UBV-01N COVID-19 drug was expected to analyse and validate its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immunological ability. Thereafter, the drug’s medicinal content would be standardisation, mass produced, and rolled out for public use.

This June, five months after the launch, the trial is far from concluded and a roll-out of the drug as a cure is not on the cards for now. Instead, NCRI says it has developed another product; the NCRI-NP Syrup that is a concentrated version of the UBV-01N COVID-19 drug. The new drug is also still undergoing research to determine proper dosages.

The delay in releasing results of the scientific trial has led critics of the project to start questioning why the government is spending money on unproven products. The project is overseen by the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE).

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