By Sola Ogundipe
When President Muhammadu Buhari received Nigeria’s consignment of the purported Madagascar COVID-19 herbal cure known as COVID-Organics, he immediately ordered that the consignment be sent for scientific tests.
The President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaru Sissoco Embalo, had presented the herbal drugs to the Nigerian President in Abuja during an official visit over the weekend.
“My position regarding all herbal or traditional medicines is that any such formulations should be sent to the statutory regulators for thorough scientific verification. We will not put anything to use in Nigeria without the endorsement of our regulatory institutions,” President Buhari remarked.
The president’s position elicited support from Nigerian scientists even as pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists have further urged the Federal government to uphold the President’s position and insist on scientific-based processes in the quest for therapeutic solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
According to the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas, NAPPSA, the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, should be fully involved in the development and use of any drug to treat or prevent COVID-19 in Nigeria.
NAPPSA, the umbrella body for over 7000 pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, and pharmaceutical educators, called for certified scientific review of the Madagascar herbal cure including other alleged cures.
Stressing the importance of NAFDAC in ensuring drug safety, the Association urged the Federal government to support research and development efforts for COVID-19 as well as to tread cautiously while supporting therapeutic claims for the disease.
Speaking, Dr. Anthony Ikeme, the National President, and Dr. Aloysius Ibe, the National Secretary of NAPPSA called attention to the alleged unfettered promotion by Nigerians and other African nations of purported COVID-19 therapeutic drugs and treatments that are not scientifically proven.
They noted that of particular interest being the promotions of Artemisia-based COVID-Organics (CVO) from Madagascar and COV-Herbal Cough Mixture from the Office of TCAM in Nigeria, among other products.
“We strongly recommend that drugs to treat or prevent COVID-19 be evaluated in randomized clinical trials (RCT). Since clinical trials for therapeutics are regulated by NAFDAC, the Agency should issue guidance on the development of drugs with direct antiviral activity, immunomodulatory activity or other mechanisms of action,”
Further, NAPPSA urged the Federal government to be fully committed to supporting R&D efforts for COVID-19.
“We strongly advise against using scientifically untested or unproven remedies for COVID-19. Nigerians deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural sources, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical,” NAPPSA said.
Warning of dangers posed by untested and unproven therapies, including safety issues and credibility questions, NAPSSA said failure to enforce due clinical trial process “encourages the proliferation of wild untested therapeutic claims which is a breeding ground for unsafe use of therapeutic agents with huge implications for public health.”
“While the COVID-19 pandemic demands scientists with expertise and know-how, including Nigerian scientists, to expedite the search and discovery of new therapeutic remedies for the COVID-19 and to save lives, the effort should not be at the expense of quality and scientific rigour.”
According to NAPPSA, Madagascar’s CVO is made from the artemisia plant which is a source of artemisinin, a significant component of modern antimalarials.
“This has led some other commentators to warn of the collateral effect that could result from the development of artemisinin resistance if it is used at a very large scale against coronavirus. It has been pointed out that as horrible as COVID-19 is, it is not good public health policy to trade solution for one public health issue with another one.”
As the COVID-19 spreads from person to person, and country to country, the race is also on to develop and mass-produce an effective vaccine all over the world and Nigeria is not left out of the effort.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria disclosed that it is developing a framework to provide financial support to aid the fight against the disease as soon as a vaccine is validated.
Although clinical trials are already underway, vaccine development often takes years.
Experts have warned that an effective curative or preventive vaccine may not be ready for at least another year or longer. In the meantime, populations all over the world are hoping to build up antibodies to fend off the virus.
Currently, no less than 100 vaccines are under development by pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, government agencies, and others. The World Health Organisation is tracking over 70 of these vaccines. Eight vaccine candidates, across four countries, are already undergoing clinical trials. While several of these candidates are already spurring hope, experts warn that it’s too early to determine if any will be successful in later-stage trials.