Last month,Madagascar joined the global fray for a drug and vaccine that could prevent and treat the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease when it launched a herbal formula which it said had cured people of COVID-19.
President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, had during the launch said the herbal remedy tagged ‘Covid-Organics’ contained Artemisia Annua and other indigenous herbs. Artemisia Annua is a plant with proven efficacy against malaria.
He said the remedy was developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research Institute and that “All 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 Madagascar.”
While describing it as a preventive and curative remedy, he said it “works really well”. He said the herbal tea gives results in seven days, adding that the remedy was sold in bottles as a herbal tea, and that clinical trials were under way in Madagascar to produce a form that could be injected into the body.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in reaction advised people against using untested remedies for COVID-19.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti during a news briefing said the organization does not have any evidence that the drink worked but that it was in discussions with the Madagascan government.
She said the WHO supported the use of traditional medicine in African healthcare systems but studies must be carried out to see if they worked.
“We have offered to support the design of a study to look into this product. We are not discouraging the use of a product, but would like to advise that it be tested,” she said.
The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warned people against using unproven remedies.
A number of African countries however supported Madagascar on the herbal remedy.
Last Monday, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman, Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, said that President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the airlifting of Nigeria’s allocation of the Madagascar syrup for COVID-19 treatment.
He said: “I have received instructions from Mr. President to make arrangements to freight it home, with a clear instruction that I should subject it to the validation process similar to what will happen to any other medicine or syrup or vaccine that is discovered or created internally.”
On Thursday however, the SGF during the daily briefing, said the Federal Government did not request for the Madagascan herbal remedy but that the later offered it and Nigeria accepted in the spirit of African brotherhood.
He said, “Nigeria did not ask for the Madagascar solution, the Madagascar government decided to airlift quantities meant for African countries. That of West Africa was taken to Guinea Bissau so all the members of ECOWAS have their commodities offloaded in Guinea Bissau and that was the one I referred to that we were making arrangements to evacuate.”
He also said accepting it does not mean the government has abandoned homegrown solutions.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said Artemisia Annua which is used for the Madagascan herbal remedy grows in Nigeria. He said the herbal drug would be subjected to analysis by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to determine its efficacy and safety before it could be adopted for the treatment of COVID-19.
However, a source with NIPRID said the agency has not received any communication or products on COVID-19 from any one or any government organisation till date.
Director General of NIPRID, Dr Obi Adigwe, did not respond to enquiries on the processes the herbal medicine would be subjected to ascertain its efficacy as at press time.
However, the acceptance of the Madagascan cure by the government has been greeted with reactions from experts. They called for investigations on the remedy as well as home grown solutions.
The president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Dr. Francis A. Faduyile said while the country is making efforts for an effective treatment of COVID-19, it should not be in a rush to believe every elixir that has not been confirmed effect.
He enjoined government to ensure thorough investigations before usage of the herbs, adding that doing necessary testing of the herbs and getting National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) approval was key.
NAFDAC has said it would continue to make sure that only medicinal products (including herbal remedies) that have proven safety data would be approved for use by the public.
Director General of NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, said the agency lists herbal medicines based on historical perspective on the use of the products after carrying out toxicological and microbiological evaluations in the laboratories to ensure that they were, at the minimum, safe.
Prof Adeyeye commended Madagascar for the initiative but added that it would be good if the country utilizes its herbs and resources to develop remedies too.
She said it was time for Nigeria to look inward instead of constantly depending on other countries. “We have been using Dogonyaro (Neem tree) for ages. Some other African countries have developed their herbal remedies. Madagascar has done it. They have looked inward and came up with herbs; Nigeria has over relied on the west for everything.
The NAFDAC boss said a claim of a cure must be subjected to clinical evaluation through well controlled, randomized clinical trials following an approved clinical trial protocol.
She said the agency set up a Nigerian Herbal Medicine Product Committee (HMPC) even before the COVID-19 outbreak as part of efforts to advance herbal products development.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has described plans to import the remedy as an insult on the country’s group of pharmacists, scientists, and researchers.
In a statement signed by the association’s president, Pharmacist Sam Ohuabunwa, they said it was important for Nigeria to try its own local formulations before trying the Madagascan ‘COVID Organics’ or any other imported remedy.
The pharmacists said: “If the world can supply us synthetic and chemically-sophisticated medicines which we apparently lack the technology to produce, why must we wait for the world to supply us herbal formulations which we can easily make and which we have similar products?”
They said while they don’t mind the Nigerian government importing any new drug that is proven to cure COVID-19 or indeed any other disease for which the country had neither the capacity nor the technology to produce locally, they were concerned with the country spending its scarce foreign exchange to import a remedy that its efficacy has not been proven.
The statement further said Nigeria has about 174 universities (43 Federal, 52 State and 79 private), 20 Faculties of Pharmacy and about 69 Federal-Funded Research Institutes (including National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research & Development and the National Institute for Medical Research) while Madagascar has only six universities, one Faculty of Pharmacy and nine Research Centres.
The association said Nigeria has some of the best scientists in the world who have done so much work on natural and herbal medicines.
“We have raised our voices severally, asking the Federal Government to review these claims and help put them through clinical evaluation as most of these producers cannot afford to conduct clinical trials,” they said.
ABU team finds ‘cure’
While the Madagascar herb is generating attention, a team of professors from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria said they have found a cure for COVID-19.
One of the lead researchers, Prof. Haruna Abdu Kaita, said the COVID-19 remedy was developed from local plants available in different parts of Nigeria.
He however did not disclose the content of the remedy. Kaita said that when the medication is made public, the herbs used would also be made public “for the sake of transparency.” He added that an elder statesman and former Vice-Chancellor of the ABU, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, is also part of the team.