There is a frenetic search by scientists and health officials worldwide to find a cure for COVID-19 disease. Researchers and companies like Pfizer, Moderna and many others are working towards developing vaccines to combat the disease. Some drugs such as Gilead’s Remdesivir, Favipiravir, and the old malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine, are also undergoing testing to determine their efficacy against coronavirus. The World Health Organisation (WHO), on her part, has engaged in international clinical trials. Health experts estimate that getting a vaccine to battle the pandemic could take at least a year to 18 months.
In Africa, the search goes beyond orthodox medicine. Herbal drugs are also under clinical examination. Madagascar offers a typical example. The Pacific Ocean Island country claims it has a cure for COVID-19 called COVID-Organics. About 55 patients reportedly recovered after treatment with the drug. The drugs are available for any African country interested in trying out their efficacy. Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has already received the mixture. The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) have been mandated to do clinical analysis of its efficacy in Nigeria. Luckily, the plant used for the herbal drug, Artemisia Annua, also reportedly grows in Nigeria.
Ironically, some Nigerian pharmacists are not too happy with this development. The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), for instance, said that the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development had several drugs that needed to be developed. It accused the Federal Government of not doing enough to encourage production of COVID-19 drugs in the country. The group posited that the Federal Government was free to bring in any drug into the country but that it should not ignore the relevant Nigerian professors and researchers who had presented their own products for evaluation.
Recall that former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, had earlier presented his product to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Even during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, Iwu also presented some local remedies for the disease. Nevertheless, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said the agency had only received one application for the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms. She claimed there was no application for the cure of the disease. She added that the setting up of the Nigerian Herbal Medicine Product Committee was part of the efforts to advance herbal products development in Nigeria. Recently, NAFDAC also held a virtual meeting with major stakeholders in local drug production in Nigeria.
Besides, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 had said some claims for COVID-19 cure by local researchers had been submitted to NAFDAC for evaluation and listing. According to the Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, some of these claims for COVID-19 cures had met preliminary requirements.
It is worthy to note that even before the coming of the colonial masters, Nigeria, nay Africa depended much on herbal medicine. There was no illness that had no local cure. The major problems with local herbs then were little or no information on dosage and side effects if any. We agree with the NAFDAC boss that “Africa as a continent is blessed with diverse plants and herbs that constitute a source of food and medicine is incontrovertible. The drugs of today’s modern society are products of research and development by major pharmaceutical companies.”
The Federal Government should take a cue from Prof. Adeyeye’s statement. It should encourage Nigerian professionals by devoting a portion of COVID-19 funds to research. No doubt, having enough dedicated funding could take care of the development of COVID-19 vaccine.
One of the major lessons of COVID-19 is that it has opened our eyes to look inwards again. It is high time Nigerians stopped neglecting herbal medicine. We can’t be dismissing everything made in Nigeria or Africa. Developing our own home-grown cure for COVID-19 will save us a lot of foreign exchange, especially now that air spaces are even closed.
Incidentally, even the Chinese do not joke with alternative medicine. And since no one knows where the cure for the pandemic will come from, we feel that no claim for cure should be ignored at this time. The important thing is to subject every one of them to clinical test and thorough certification so that Nigerians must be sure of what they are taking. There should be no margin for error.