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Herbal medicine for COVID-19

One of the founders of the Rwandan research firm Inter-Culturel, Jean-Luc Galabert , which is working hand-in-hand with La Maison de l’Artemisia is reported to have said the infusion derived from this plant has potential as a low-cost treatment for COVID-19, after having proven its efficacy against malaria.

“Unlike other pharmaceutical drugs, the plant doesn’t require a full-fledged production chain and it also allows us to avoid issues like drug counterfeiting,” he reportedly said. The Independent could not confirm this.

A report from Madagascar quotes an unnamed adviser to President Rajoelina saying the concoction is made up of artemisia and ravensara. Ravensara is a powerful antiviral plant also grown in Madagascar according to its promoters.

Controversial remedies

Herbal remedies have become very popular in Uganda since the outbreak of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Recently, since the outbreak of COVID-19 was announced early this year, many breakthroughs and interventions have been announced in Uganda and the world.

Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, sparked controversy in March with an announcement that Uganda was planning to manufacture a spray which instantly kills viruses, including the coronavirus. Kadaga said an American inventor, Prof. Safraz K. Niaz, who was visiting Uganda, had donated the patent, free of charge to Uganda.

Some people appear to have assumed that Kadaga was promoting the spray as a possible cure or treatment for COVID-19. It reality, the Speaker was peddling an alcohol based sanitizer that instantly kills the coronavirus similar to those that are now commonly used.

Elsewhere, many African traditional medicine practitioners and scientists have proclaimed various traditional herbal medicines and plants as possible therapies.

Another herbal remedy making waves is from Cameroon.  A Catholic Church Archbishop here; Samuel Kleda, with over 30 years research into herbal medicine, is offering an “essential oil” remedy. In South Africa, traditional Zulu healers are using the medicinal plant Sutherlandia Frutescens or Cancer bush which is said to have been used in the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 20 million people.

According to WHO, at least 80% of people in Africa still rely on medicinal plants for their health care. medicinal plants are favoured because they are cheaper and more affordable, available, and believed to have less adverse side effects. Herbal medicine is the oldest and still the most widely used system of medicine in the world today.

Warning on herbal medicine

In its statement issued on May 05, the WHO did not mention the Madagascar drug or any other herbal remedy. But it said medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for COVID-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects.

“Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical,” the statement said.

WHO warned that for all efforts underway to find treatment for COVID-19, caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies.

“Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimum requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy. The use of products to treat COVID-19, which have not been robustly investigated can put people in danger, giving a false sense of security and distracting them from hand washing and physical distancing which are cardinal in COVID-19 prevention, and may also increase self-medication and the risk to patient safety,” it said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was more direct; warning people against using unproven remedies.

“There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume,” the CDC said in a statement.

The African Union also debated the Madagascar therapy and asked for more details.

The WHO also cited a resolution made by African AU ministers urging Member States to produce evidence on the safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicine at the Fiftieth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in 2000.

At the time, African countries also agreed to undertake relevant research and require national medicines regulatory agencies to approve medicines in line with international standards, which include the product following a strict research protocol and undergoing tests and clinical trials.

These studies normally involve hundreds of people under the monitoring of the national regulatory authorities and may take quite a few months in an expedited process.

WHO said it is working with research institutions to select traditional medicine products which can be investigated for clinical efficacy and safety for COVID-19 treatment.

“In addition, the Organisation will continue to support countries as they explore the role of traditional health practitioners in prevention, control, and early detection of the virus as well as case referral to health facilities, the statement said.

Over the past two decades, WHO has been working with countries to ensure safe and effective traditional medicine development in Africa by providing financial resources and technical support.

WHO has supported clinical trials, leading 14 countries to issue marketing authorisation for 89 traditional medicine products which have met international and national requirements for registration. Of these, 43 have been included in national essential medicines lists. These products are now part of the arsenal to treat patients with a wide range of diseases including malaria, opportunistic infections related to HIV, diabetes, sickle cell disease and hypertension. Almost all countries in the WHO African region have national traditional medicine policies, following support from WHO.

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