New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) has set rules for testing African herbal medicine as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus infection days after criticism from different foreign agencies reportedly WHO inclusive.
Earlier in April, the president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, launched a herbal remedy that he claimed could prevent and cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Rajoelina publicly sipped from a bottle of the herbal drink, dubbed COVID-Organics, even as he ordered a nationwide distribution to families.
However, the launch of herbal remedies received a wide range of scientific criticism from within and outside Africa. Before cooperating with Madagascar, the UN health agency had warned against the use of any untested remedy for COVID-19. As per Wikipedia, the African Union (AU) had also demanded detailed scientific data on the herbal medicine, an Artemisia-based, for analysis by Africa CDC after it had been briefed by Madagascar officials about COVID-Organics.
As of May 20, more than 20 African and Caribbean countries have taken delivery of the herbal medicine to help combat COVID-19 pandemic. The herbal drink is made using a species under the Artemisia genus from which artemisinin is extracted for malaria treatment.
Protocol for African herbal medicine trials against COVID-19
On Saturday, WHO experts and colleagues from two other organisations “endorsed a protocol for phase III clinical trials of herbal medicine for COVID-19 as well as a charter and terms of reference for the establishment of a data and safety monitoring board for herbal medicine clinical trials,” a statement said.
“Phase III clinical trials are pivotal in fully assessing the safety and efficacy of a new medical product,” it noted.
“If a traditional medicine product is found to be safe, efficacious and quality-assured, WHO will recommend (it) for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing,” Prosper Tumusiime, a regional WHO director, was quoted as saying.
Tumusiime added that the onset of COVID-19, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has highlighted the need for strengthened health systems and accelerated research and development programmes, including on traditional medicines.
Experts on the use of herbal drugs to treat COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has rapidly become responsible for the current global health crisis, is a challenge for the governments and the general public. With no specific vaccine or treatment available yet, researchers and medical doctors are desperately seeking a proven cure for coronavirus disease. When the conventional drugs such as lopinavir, ritonavir, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine are not as effective as expected, screening potential active components from traditional herbal medicine is a viable strategy that should not be dismissed, said a study published in the medical journal The Lancet.
According to the study, a Chinese official announced at a press conference in April that indications of three patent herbal drugs were approved to be expanded to include COVID-19 symptoms. This included Lianhuaqingwen capsules and Jinhuaqinggan granules for mild conditions, and Xuebijing (injectable) for severe conditions.
These drugs are widely used to treat COVID-19 in China, added the study. The official claimed the patent herbal drugs can effectively relieve symptoms, including cough, fever, and fatigue, as well as reduce the probability of patients developing severe conditions – but without giving further details. The study noted that so far, no high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed clinical trials of herbal drugs have been reported in internationally recognised journals.