BY PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the call for Africa to develop, research and ultimately integrate traditional medicine into the mainstream of healthcare system.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also urged African countries to look back on the progress they have made in the past two decades of African traditional medicine.
Celebrating this year’s African Traditional Medicine Day, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said traditional medicine has been used for centuries to improve well-being and it continues to play a central role in health care.
“It draws on the continent’s rich and unique biodiversity of aromatic and medicinal plants. It is also a promising industry that African countries can do more to export internationally.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, African traditional medicine took the spotlight, starting with widespread discussion of COVID-organics as a potential remedy for the virus. Action has accelerated to study this remedy, with a view to scaling-up production if it is shown to be effective,” said Moeti.
Speaking further she said, “In recognition of the need for further action, I want to add my voice to the call for the third decade of African traditional medicine. This will help to ensure African traditional medicine is exploited to its full potential.
“I call on governments, academic and research institutions, practitioners, and the private sector to strengthen collaboration. By working together, stakeholders can improve access to quality traditional medicines delivered by health-care teams integrated into national health systems.
“It is my personal ambition that African traditional medicine be more fully recognized internationally. I assure you of WHO’s commitment to promoting safe and effective traditional medicines for better well-being.”
Speaking at a press conference to mark the African Traditional Medicine Day, themed: “Two Decades of African Traditional Medicine (2001-2020): What Progress in Countries?” in Abuja, the minister of state for health, Dr. Olurunnimbe Mamora, said that Africa must pause and reflect on how well it has fared regarding traditional medicine development and research.
He said that the current COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to its knees due to its ravaging effect on health, economy and social well-being of humanity, with countries inevitably being forced to look inwards for local solution which makes the time for stock taking of achievement and failure in traditional Medicine sector, now.
“You will recall that Madagascar came up with a herbal product, called Covid Organics which claims to be preventive and curative for COVID-19, although this claim is yet to be scientifically proven, but it would not be out of place to acknowledge this effort and its a good step in African continent. I must commend the gallant efforts of some of our herbal practitioners who made similar moves in this regard; we urge them to step forward,” said Mamora.
Earlier, the permanent secretary of the ministry, Mr. Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, said that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, it has become increasingly necessary to look at strategies by all countries to tackle this novel Corona Virus.
“It is worthy of mention that since COVID-19 was discovered, Nigeria has also joined the world in the search for cure and management of this virus. Various traditional medicine practitioners have submitted claims for products with potential to cure this disease. These products have been fully handed to NIPRD and NAFDAC for further evaluation. This development is evidence of Government’s commitment and involvement towards the development, promotion of traditional medicine and its gradual integration into the main health care delivery system,” he said.
A member of the ad-hoc committee on health, at the national assembly, Hon. Dr. Shehu Balarabe Kakale, reiterated support for the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Health in tightening the loopholes in the area of alternative, traditional and complimentary medicine for the benefit of Nigerians.
According to him, “80 per cent of Nigerians use traditional medicine one way or the other and have got remedies and succor in many areas concerning their health and well-being, with the current new support in the sector, a lot could be achieved in reducing medical tourism, improving health and welfare of Nigerians and of course, creating jobs to boost the economy.”
He further assured of the support of his colleagues at the national assembly to do their best in continuous, seamless and harmonious relationship in passing bills and other resolutions of the traditional medicine association as well as the institution that certify this products for the benefits of Nigerians.
Similarly, the director – general of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Dr. Obi Adigwe, said that for the first time in the country’s history an interdisciplinary team of over 20 eminent and erudite professors drawn from various universities and geopolitical regions were convened to form the National Scientific Advisory Committee (NSAC) on the verification of claims by traditional medicines practitioners.
According to Adigwe, this landmark achievement not only ensures that corona virus cure claims are subjected to the highest international science, it also ensures that the highest relevant standards of safety and efficacy are maintained, in order to safeguard the lives of Nigerians.
Meanwhile, the director-general, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, has said that although herbal medicine may be able to cure COVID-19, there is no herbal cure yet for the virus.
“When it comes to herbal medicine, you cannot say this medicine can cure until you do clinical trials. You can only change the recommendation on the product to provide relief for this, or management of that. You cannot cure COVID-19 when you don’t do antiviral testing. You have to go to clinical trials and use so many people. Our herbal medicine may be able to cure COVID-19 but it depends on the stage,” she said.
She, however, said that 40 companies have submitted applications for clinical trials to prove that their drugs work.
“We are reviewing their application as we speak,” she said.
His Imperial Majesty, Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, has revealed that his Virasol herbal medicine is one of the over 40 herbal medicines submitted to NAFDAC for registration as immune booster against COVID-19 disease, adding that the herbal medicine has passed NAFDAC laboratory tests and the registration number would be out this week.
Oba Ogunwusi stated this at a press conference to commemorate this year’s African Traditional Medicine Day, and launch of the Pan African Foundation for Traditional Medical Research and Development (PAFIMERD), in Lagos.
“The Virsol immune boosting herbal medicine is one of the series of herbal remedies developed under the aegis of my new initiative, PAFIMERD for which I am launching today to the glory of Almighty God.
“The PAFIMERD has the following noble objectives: To create a formidable and virile organisation and platform for the promotion and growth of African traditional medicine (ATM). To conduct and support research and development of African medicine especially herbal medicines.
“To mobilise and create an African wide Intervention fund for research and development of ATM. To initiate and support policies, laws and regulations for the growth of ATM. To undertake any other activity geared towards promoting the growth of ATM. To serve as a rallying point and clearing house for all private initiatives and researches in ATM,” he said.
The royal father further disclosed that PAFIMERD was in the process of signing an MoU with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), while expressing optimism that a strong collaboration between PAFIMERD, NIPRD and NAFDAC would help change the negative narrative of ATM and reposition it as a major foreign exchange earner to the country.
He, therefore, appealed to the federal government, state governments, the national and state assemblies to rise up to the new challenge by providing the needed funding, legislative and policy support to jump – start ATM.