The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed rules for the testing of African herbal remedies to fight Covid-19.
The Regional Expert Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 formed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs has 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.
“Just like other areas of medicine, sound science is the sole basis for safe and effective traditional medicine therapies,” said Dr Prosper Tumusiime, Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa.
The WHO said the new rules were aimed at helping and empowering scientists in Africa to conduct proper clinical trials.
“The endorsed technical documents are aimed at empowering and developing a critical mass of technical capacity of scientists in Africa to conduct proper clinical trials to ensure quality, safety and efficacy of traditional medicines in line with international standards. Phase III clinical trials are pivotal in fully assessing the safety and efficacy of a new medical product. The data safety and monitoring board will ensure that the accumulated studies data are reviewed periodically against participants’ safety. It will also make recommendations on the continuation, modification or termination of a trial based on evaluation of data at predetermined periods during the study.”
If a traditional medicine product is found to be safe, efficacious and quality-assured, WHO will recommend for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing, Dr Tumusiime explained, noting that through the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, there is now a benchmark upon which clinical trials of medicines and vaccines in the region can be assessed and approved in fewer than 60 days.
“The adoption of the technical documents will ensure that universally acceptable clinical evidence of the efficacy of herbal medicines for the treatment of Covid-19 is generated without compromising the safety of participants,” said Prof Motlalepula Gilbert Matsabisa, the panel’s chairman.
“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,” the WHO’s Dr Prosper Tumusiime said in the statement.
The move comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide passes 30 million, with reported global deaths standing at more than 957,000. In Africa there have been more than 1.3 million cases and then 33,000 reported deaths.
In April, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina launched Covid-Organics to great fanfare, saying it was a prevention and remedy. It had been tested on 20 people over a period of three weeks.
The drink, which has also been sent to dozens of African countries, is produced by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research from the artemisia plant – the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment – and other Malagasy plants.
Around 140 potential vaccines for Covid-19 are being developed around the world, with dozens already being tested on people in clinical trials. Alongside these efforts, the green light has now been given for phrase three clinical trials using African traditional medicines.