Oluseye Ojo and Taiwo Oluwadare, Ibadan
Prior to the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, the narratives in the public have always been that orthodox and traditional medicines are two parallel lines that can never meet in Nigeria. All the spirited efforts made in the past to bring them together were thwarted.
Scientists in the orthodox medicine lines, especially researchers in the academia, have consistently made Nigerians to see reasons they should rely on medicines from the Western world. They argue that herbal medicines usually don’t have measurement for dosages and techniques to know expiry dates. They insist herbal practitioners are not always transparent about the contents of their drugs, coupled with failure to take their products through standard protocols for global acceptability.
But the search for cure to COVID-19 is practically effecting paradigm shift that will ensure home-grown cure for the novel coronavirus in Nigeria, as well as in other African countries. This search has engendered unprecedented collaborations among Oyo State Government, authorities of the University of Ibadan (UI), scientists and traditional herbal medicine practitioners.
The collaborations followed the disposition of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, a survivor of COVID-19: “I do not believe that if the solution doesn’t come from America or the West or the East, that we cannot have a solution.
“Yes, it will take quite a bit to have it open, you know you take those things into the world medical journals, they have a process, maybe World Health Organisation (WHO). It is quite a long process but it doesn’t mean that we cannot find a solution from this part of the world.”
He said a team at UI wrote to the state government on the collaborations, adding that the two bodies had the first engagement meeting, saying the team from UI, and the government team suggested natural remedies: “We had discussion with them. I saw a lot of difference when I actually started taking those immune boosters like I mentioned, black seed oil.
“Black seed oil, when you take it, you can have that metallic taste in it. Well, I took carrots as well. I understand carrots also have carotene in it. And the black seed oil has zinc.
“Of course, when you are in this situation, everybody will turn to be a research scholar. We do a lot of research also and they said that zinc, if it goes into the cell, it actually prevents the virus from entering the cell. There are all kinds of things out there but the experts, you know the professors of virology, epidemiology, they all put it together to make sense out of all the information we have.”
Some days later, all roads led to the Department of Agronomy, Faculty of Agriculture, UI, where a delegation of the state government, led by the Executive Assistant on Administration to the Governor, Revd Idowu Ogedengbe; scientists from UI, led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof Idowu Olayinka and herbal medicine practitioners, led by the Baale of Ekotedo, Ibadan, Elder Taiye Ayorinde, met for the second time.
The stakeholders eventually set up a committee to look into the home-grown products being brought forward by experts, and subject them to scientific validation, and the most potent among the solutions would be presented for clinical trials.
The collaborations, according to Ogedengbe, was aimed at midwifing a town and gown approach that would lead to a sustainable cure for COVID-19: “We want to start, and we already know people that have the products, samples, mixtures and solutions. But we don’t just want to take it on the surface and start promoting them.
“We want to first subject the products to scientific validation, so that by the time our virologists, botanists and other professionals in the university community look at those solutions, we will come up with something that the global community would benefit from. We want to really set the pace for others to emulate.
“When our governor tested positive, one of the things he used during the period of isolation has to do with local herbs. Now, we are beginning to hear, coming out of Madagascar that there is a solution that can both prevent and cure the coronavirus.
“That for us is stirring us up to quickly look inward and consider the opportunities that we have as a state, not only to enhance the healthcare of our people, but to also see how we can provide a lasting solution to this issue of coronavirus.
“It is something that will have scientific validation, something that would have passed through clinical trials. The reports received from Madagascar revealed that the country made a presentation to the global economy of its solution, without having done any clinical trial.
“In Oyo State, we want to collaborate with the scientists. We want to initiate discussion between the scientists and herbal medicine practitioners and see how we could provide some levels of empirical scientific validation to whatever solution they think they have because quite a number of people have been coming out to say they have solutions. We want to know to what extent can their solutions or their herbal remedies meet international protocol and standards.
“We felt we should not just allow our people to be using all manners of remedies and solutions, which could cause problems on their own. We are trying to deal with coronavirus we don’t want to have a situation whereby people, because of wrong usage of herbal solutions, will start having another problems on our hands. Let us quickly see what we can do, provide the interventions, provide the necessary collaboration and come out with a solution that would meet the protocol and international standards.
“We believe that is what inspired this vision. The governor said he wants a home-grown solution that would not only stop the spread of this disease, but also cure the disease.”
Olayinka said the initiative was the best approach since it is an embodiment of people from different strata such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), representing the Federal Government, representatives of the state government, the academia, private sector and the traditional medicine practitioners:
“We know there will be a solution soon. We are even going to go beyond the progress that has been made in Madagascar. You would have heard that Madagascar is trying to collaborate with South Africa.
“In Science, if you say you have a cure to something, you have to let the whole world know the protocol you have followed and, if possible, you can publish it in a scientific journal so that people can see the steps you have taken for replication. We know our people are up to the task with support from government both at the state and federal levels. I am also happy that NAFDAC is here with us.”
A representative of NAFDAC, Mrs. Edo Priye, told the meeting that the agency was ready to collaborate with all the herbal producers to ensure that the pandemic comes to an end.
Elder Ayorinde said herbal medicine is the most realistic solution for the treatment of COVID-19. He told Daily Sun that he was angry that the Federal Government has not allowed Nigeria to develop instead of going to Madagascar to import herbal product for COVID-19. He asked questions on “what is stopping the Federal Government from giving marching order to scientists in universities in Nigeria to produce a cure for COVID-19.
Ayorinde, however, said the allegations that herbalists have been indulging in the habit of not disclosing the contents of their products was right, saying they have been withholding the full disclosure of contents because there has not been protection of intellectual property for them. He argued that if herbalists make full disclosure of the contents of their products, some groups or individuals might steal the idea, without giving credit to the owner.
He appealed to the government to ensure protection of intellectual property for herbalists: “God gave us the herbs and we are not using them the way we should. I was born blind and I remained blind for the first three years of my life. The herbalist that came to heal me did spend three hours and he did not make any incision on my body. Today, I am 85 years old and can still see clearly. The man used herbs to cure my blindness.
“I have been to London, and they also practice their herbal medicine there. Nobody should tell us that our herbal medicine is barbaric, while promoting their own. The cause of mistrust between the practitioners of orthodox medicine and trado-medicine should be dealt with. If the people in orthodox medicine are afraid of incantations, the herbalists have products that are not associated with incantations. I know so many herbalists that can cure COVID-19. We have many local vegetables and what are we doing with them?
“Yoruba from South West Nigeria have achieved some medical feats in the past and overcoming the new pandemic will not be a difficult task.”
He made mention of killer diseases like smallpox that herbal practitioners in Yoruba land had found solution to: “Europeans won’t believe we have such cures in the country. I knew we have been colonised to stupidly believe anything Europeans tell us.
“Let everybody, professors from various fields make research into our homegrown products. There are Nigerians abroad coming up with innovations in various industries. They were able to achieve these because they were given opportunities.
“But here, our political leaders instead of given such opportunities rather, they prefer stealing the money and take it abroad to develop their economies over there.”
On what prompted the decision to come up with the homegrown solution to tackle the pandemic, Ayorinde said: “A young man called Victor Taiwo tickled me up to call the traditionalists to find lasting solutions to novel COVID-19 pandemic and we recommended them to the state government to fund them.
“COVID-19 is similar to a disease called ‘Lukuluku’ in Yoruba land. It was discovered during the Kiriji War. It was killing people and yet a cure was found for it. Another one was ‘Igbona’ (smallpox) and cure was found for it in Yoruba land.
“All these cures are from our native researches and herbs. Here, we are not talking about incantations but practicable and possible inventions. We have our own sciences.
He urged the government to establish a herbal hospital in Oyo State to reinvigorate home-grown solutions to diseases.
A professor of Botany and Director, Botanical Gardens, UI, Taiye Fasola, said the plant being used for the solutions from Madagascar is a seasonal plant and the farmers in that country have been planting it annually, saying Nigeria also has herbs that can do the same work. But she wanted the government to be proactive on protecting the plants that can be used locally in Nigeria so that they would not go into extinction.