HEALTH

Africa and the new protocol on COVID-19 herbal therapies

ADEZE OJUKWU

Africa has shown remarkable interest in seeking alternative therapeutic solutions for COVID-19 treatment.

Prospects of discovering potential cure for coronavirus, through herbal remedies are still high.

This is a general consensus among stakeholders and populations, in the region and other places, where traditional products are widely respected.

Indeed, Africa, which has been in the forefront of the hunt for natural protocols, has taken a major leap in its exploration of plant and zoological sources for COVID-19 antidote.

Last week the regional Expert Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 endorsed a protocol for phase III clinical trials of herbal components for the virus.

This news is indeed very cheery, given the virtual absence of the region in the scramble for panacea.

Since the search for a vaccine or conventional regimen, for the debilitating disease, the continent has displayed little or no representation.

Early attempts by Madagascar to deliver a herbal remedy were dismissed as non-effective.

Even the popular antimalarial drug, chloroquine, which was initially tipped as efficacious was also shut down, as an unsuccessful candidate.

Therefore, the latest advancement is quite reassuring, offering a ray of hope and comfort, amidst the devastating impact of the pandemic, particularly in the continent.

The development is also generating international interest among scientists and researchers.

The regional expert committee was recently established by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs has endorsed a protocol for phase III clinical trials of herbal medicine for COVID-19.

The body has also approved ‘a charter and terms of reference for the establishment of a data and safety monitoring board for herbal medicine clinical trials.’

This was contained in a statement from the agency’s Regional Communications Officer, Collins Boakye-Agyemang.

Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Prosper Tumusiime, said ‘just like other areas of medicine, sound science is the sole basis for safe and effective traditional medicine therapies.’

‘The onset of COVID-19, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has highlighted the need for strengthened health systems and accelerated research and development programmes, including on traditional medicines,’ he explained.

According to him, the endorsed technical documents are aimed at empowering and developing a critical mass of technical capacity of scientists in Africa to conduct proper clinical trials to ensure quality, safety and efficacy of traditional medicines in line with international standards.

What does this entail?

In principle, ‘the Phase III clinical trials are pivotal in fully assessing the safety and efficacy of a new medical product.’

The data safety and monitoring board will ensure that the accumulated studies data are reviewed periodically against participants’ safety.’

‘It will also make recommendations on the continuation, modification or termination of a trial based on evaluation of data at predetermined periods during the study.’

Dr Tumusiime further said ‘if a traditional medicine product is found to be safe, efficacious and quality-assured, WHO will recommend for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing.’

Therefore ‘through the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, there is now a benchmark upon which clinical trials of medicines and vaccines in the region can be assessed and approved in fewer than 60 days,’ he added.

Similarly, the Committee Chairman Prof. Motlalepula Gilbert Matsabisa said, ‘the adoption of the technical documents will ensure that universally acceptable clinical evidence of the efficacy of herbal medicines for the treatment of COVID-19 are generated without compromising the safety of participants.’

He voiced hope that ‘the generic clinical trial protocol will be immediately used by scientists in the region to ensure that people can benefit from the potential of traditional medicine in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.’

‘The 25-members of the Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 are tasked with supporting countries to enhance research and development of traditional medicine-based therapies against the virus and provide guidance on the implementation of the approved protocols to generate scientific evidence on the quality, safety and efficacy of herbal medicines for COVID-19.’

‘They are from research institutions, national regulatory authorities, traditional medicine programmes, public health departments, academia, medical and pharmacy professions and civil society organizations of Member States.’

Gratuitously, trials to develop a vaccine are underway at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and other centers across the world.

Hence, WHO has made a final push for countries to join multilateral COVID-19 vaccine effort, just as

Head of the apex health agency, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus has urged countries which have not signed on to a global mechanism that has pledged to provide fair and timely access to a COVID-19 vaccine, to join.

Speaking at a virtual meeting, last Thursday, he reminded participants that so far, more than 170 countries have expressed interest in joining the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility which is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO.

‘The COVAX Facility aims to deliver two billion doses by the end of next year. Last month, there were nine vaccines in its portfolio and another nine under evaluation.’

‘As of Thursday, there were more than 29.7 million cases worldwide, including more than 937,000 deaths.’

‘Vaccines will be a vital tool for bringing the pandemic under control. But we have no guarantee that any one vaccine now in development will work,’ Tedros stressed.

Therefore the current pursuit by African researchers is remarkable and demands concerted worldwide support.

In verity, this may well be the missing cure that the world is scampering for.

.Ojukwu is a journalist and public policy analyst. Kindly send feedback to [email protected]

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