Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the globe, world leaders, scientists and traditional medicine researchers have been in a frenzied search for a cure, a quick and lasting solution. In Africa, Madagascar claimed to have found a native cure, Covid Organics. However, there have been clashes of opinions surrounding the traditional solution.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to pick up the medication developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research. Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, said Madagascar donated some of the products to Nigeria through Guinea-Bissau.
While launching the Covid Organics, Madagascan President, Andry Rajoelina, said it contained Artemisia, a plant cultivated on the Big Island to fight malaria. He said trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in the country.
Interestingly, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, confirmed that the plant used for the herbal drug also grows in Nigeria. He, however, said that the herbal drug would be subjected to analysis by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to determine its efficacy and safety.
“We understand that it is something called Artemisia Annua, which also grows here. But we would like to get that sample and compare it with the strain here to know if they are exactly identical or similar and then see what properties it has,” he explained.
But before the Federal Government took interest in Madagascar’s Covid Organics, scientists at the University of Ibadan (UI), Oyo State, had recommended a plant called Euphorbia Hirta as a herbal remedy to mitigate some of the diseases symptoms with COVID-19. According to them, the plant, commonly called Asthma plant, had the ability to cure dry cough, respiratory failure, fever and other symptoms usually associated with chronic flu similar to COVID-19. The plant, when boiled, could be taken as tea and could serve as first aid treatment while further complex solutions could still be explored.
The plant is known as Asin Uloko in Edo, Nonon Kurciya in Hausa, Chamma Chamma in Kanuri, Endamyel in Fula-Fulfulde (Borno), Ba Ala in Owerri and Akun Esan in Yoruba.
The UI scientists are authorities who understand scientific research processes. They include Professors Ademola Ladele, Rasheed Awodoyin, Olaniyi Babayemi (animal scientist), Olapeju Aiyelaagbe (chemist), Dr. Ahmed Abu (animal scientist), Dr. Adeoluwa (organic agriculturist), Dr. Olajumoke Fayinminnu (toxicologist), Dr. Funmilayo Adebiyi (animal scientist), Dr. Idayat Gbadamosi (ethnobotanist), Dr. J. Badejo (drug development specialist) and Prof. Ademola Ladele (organic agriculturist).
Asidem from the UI scientists, a former lecturer with the Department of Microbiology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, Kaduna State, Prof. Ayodele Israel Adeleye, challenged the Federal Government to send him five patients to prove the veracity of the cure he had found for COVID-19: “If the government brings in five people with COVID-19, I will treat them for free. COVID-19 cure is real and the next after God in terms of effectiveness.”
Also, the provost of Luminar International College of Alternative Medicine, Enugu, Prof. Joseph Akpa, recently claimed he had found a cure for the disease. He said he had already made energy health medicines superficially meant to boost the human immune system and others meant to directly attack the virus to ensure 100 per cent successful cure.
“I will challenge any health institution or agency to bring any known case of coronavirus to me and see how it will disappear within a few days. If the permanent secretary of Enugu State Ministry of Health or the state government approaches me to cure any of the known cases of coronavirus in the state, I will voluntarily do so without attaching any condition to it. I thank God for using me to find the cure to a disease that is already threatening to wipe out the whole earth,” he said.
Some Nigerian Catholic priests are also involved in the search for a cure. They said a drug called Pax CVD Plus could treat coronavirus. According to the priests, the constituents of the drug are antiviral and have agents that can stimulate antibodies. The Catholic priests, in a statement signed by Father Anselm Adodo OSB, on April 29, stated that plant-based drugs were seemingly the best approach for curing coronavirus. The reason, they said, was that the drugs were easy to produce, store and distribute, and could be handled by medical and non-medical persons, as they pose a low contamination risk.
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, also believes that herbs can cure COVID-19. In partnership with YemKem International, an alternative medicine company, the monarch, widely regarded as the spiritual leader of the Yoruba, is working to create a herbal therapy to be mass-produced and packaged for sale. The therapy is based on a mix of bitter leaves, neem leaves and seeds, sulfur, black pepper and cloves that are traditionally used in Yorubaland as powerful antioxidants to flush the system of harmful viruses.
Ooni Ogunwusi, co-chairman of the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria (NCTRN), had announced his discovery on Twitter, claiming that his unique herbal mixture had been tested on himself and others. In the March 30 tweets, he called on researchers to use natural herbs to produce a vaccine and detailed instructions on herbal home remedies, including the use of onions to fight viral infections and the use of incense to expel “negative energy.”
However, a drug development scientist, Dr. Oluwatomide Adeoye, has faulted the Ooni’s claims: “There is no way to know for certain that his ‘medicine’ can cure the coronavirus. The proper protocol to test such medicine will be to first isolate the virus and test the medicine in petri dishes and, if effective, second, test in animals and third, in humans.”
Another revered first class traditional ruler, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was emphatic there was traditional medicine capable of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the foremost monarch, Yoruba traditional medicines, in times past, treated all manner of diseases, from smallpox to diabetes to hay fever. He said herbalists were capable of sending messages to people by telepathy and wondered whether those powers had left the people.
“There were no sicknesses or diseases under the surface of the earth that our forefathers were not capable of healing. I know that those powers are still potent and present in us today,” he said.
The Alaafin cited a herbalist in Oyo who passed on not too long ago who specialised in conjuring snake poisons from the bodies of the victims.
“The man would call out the poison in the snake and conjure the snake responsible for the sting wherever it was. The snake would be made to swallow its own venom,” he said.
He maintained that modern medicines did not have that potency but traditional medicine practitioners were, nonetheless, circumspect about displaying their abilities so as not to run foul of governmental laws and bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in proclaiming cure for ailments in the world today.
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a statement issued by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondinyan, berated President Muhammadu Buhari for picking the Madagascar herbal remedy over home-grown remedies. The party said such solutions as developed by Madagascar abound in Nigeria but had remained untapped.
“It is indeed despicable and shameful that, instead of leading other African countries for solutions, as the Giant of Africa, President Buhari’s aimless administration is going to Madagascar to purchase remedies that abound in our country. The Buhari-led All Progressives Congress administration had continued to snub entreaties by Nigerians to mobilise our abounding indigenous manufacturers and researchers for production of therapeutics, including ventilators, kits and medicines, just like Madagascar and Senegal. If the leaders of Madagascar did not lead from the front and looked inwards to produce the Covid Organics, would President Buhari be running to them for solution?” PDP asked.
Chief executive officer of Bioresources Development Group, Prof. Maurice Iwu, lamented that the Federal Government was yet to show interest in the treatment presented by his team of researchers. The former INEC boss called on the National Assembly to organise an emergency public hearing and, through its oversight function, direct the agency concerned to fast-track the process of validating the drug.
“Government needs to show interest in our drug” he said. “The money raised by private sector can be deployed; it does not need to come to Prof. Iwu. Once the government shows interest; every other thing will fall in place,” he said.
Years ago, Dr. Jeremiah Abalaka, an immunologist, had claimed that he discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS and berated the government and the Nigeria Medical Association for not supporting him.
When Madagascar announced its medication, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against the use of traditional herbs in the treatment of COVID-19.
The body said: “As efforts are underway to find a treatment for COVID-19, caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on the social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies.”
WHO said Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in other parts of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural means, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical. In Togo, for instance, traditional medicine researchers are pushing for collaboration with modern researchers to find ways through which traditional medicine can also be integrated into the treatment of COVID-19.
Dr. Francis Faduyile, president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) cautioned about the claims. He said: “A lot of information is out there to the extent that some Nigerians are of the opinion that ginger, garlic, drinking of hot water, traditional or herbal concoction, etcetera, could cure COVID-19.”
Faduyile, an associate professor/consultant pathologist, Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine, said these, among other factors, have contributed to the late presentation to healthcare facilities and designated centres.
“I must stress that over 95 per cent of the infected would recover with drug usage or not; hence critical research must show the efficacy of the many claims that they are potent. My advice is that Nigerians should adhere to medical/scientific instructions for us to win the battle against COVID-19. Most importantly, Nigerians should comply with the lockdown directive, physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, among others.”