KAMPALA— As the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic looms, the Ugandan government has revealed plans to integrate traditional medicine into mainstream healthcare, citing effectiveness, safety, easy access, and affordability.
The integration plan comes amid skepticism and hesitancy from many medical doctors regarding the safety and efficacy of traditional medicines.
Many people, including those subscribing to some radical Christian perspectives, are disinclined to uptake of traditional medicines.
But global health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), says up to 60 per cent of Ugandans still use traditional medicine, with the advent of Covid-19 increasing demand for the medicines.
The National Drug Authority (NDA) has so far approved two herbal medicines – Covidex and Vidicine as supportive treatment for Covid-19, or for managing related symptoms, but others are also being used without the initial approval.
All the herbal medicines are yet to undergo clinical trials to prove whether they cure Covid-19.
Dr Monica Musenero, the minister of Science, Technology and Innovations, told government scientists and herbalists during celebration to mark the 19th African Traditional Medicine Day in Kampala on Thursday that they have developed clear plans to ensure traditional medicine is treated as conventional drugs in healthcare.
The plans, Dr Musenero said, include training herbalists on basic medical knowledge and good manufacturing practices, and training medical students about traditional medicines.
She said the government plans to set up a specialised clinical trial facility for natural medicines at Mulago hospital, providing funds for the trials and ensure all natural products are subjected to clinical trials, and respect ownership rights of developers.
The minister, like other top experts at the event, blamed the negativity of some doctors and other people against traditional medicine on three major issues, including being brainwash by colonialists and missionaries to control and sell their drugs to Africans.
“It is not that our people lacked knowledge [about natural medicine and their potential to heal], but the feeling of powerlessness against these [colonial] powerful system, which put our medicines to be second class and makes it look like you are backward. And so the names like traditional medicine, herbal medicine, alternative medicine [came up]… why not medicine! If it is medicine, then it is medicine. Why do we try to make it inferior?” she asked.
“I have read and studied many of the herbs we have around and the information is just there. Many people have done research and the evidence is clear that we have antivirals in our neighbourhood,” she added.
Prof Patrick Ogwang, a clinical pharmacist and the developer of Covidex, citing a case of a child who presented with a rare disease that had the child’s foot rotting away last month, said the foot was healed using herbal remedies. He said natural medicines can heal diseases that synthetic medicines have failed to cure.
Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa told Ugandans scientists and herbalists that traditional medicine has unique benefits in confronting Covid-19, including the long-term effects of the disease that synthetic medicines may not.
Prof Motlalepula is a pharmacologist and the head of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (Health) Lead Programme at the University of Free State in South Africa.
“A lot of traditional medicines are in fact good for cough, fever, and they have antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory and anti-oxidant and anti-coagulants. All these are some of the products that are important in Covid-19 treatment,” he said.
Immune-modulation refers to regulatory adjustment of the immune system. The decline or lack of immune-modulation in the body is one of the highest contributors in the Covid-19 critical illness and death.
The country has so far lost more than 3,000 people to Covid-19 and more than 100,000 have been infected since the outbreak of the disease in March last year.
Anti-oxidants prevent or delay cell death thus helping the body to withstand infections, while anti-coagulants prevent blood clots, which is one of the ways Covid-19 causes death.
Common anti-oxidant-rich herbs include oranges, mangoes, berries and watermelon, while anti-coagulant rich herbs include turmeric, ginger, red pepper and garlic.
Dr Musenero said the government is focusing on developing a pathogenic economy and that development and research on traditional medicine will be key to attain the goals.
She said the government is also looking at herbs to confront drug resistance that is increasing the cost of medical care and deaths.
“I am neither for the herbalists nor for medicine. I am for African medicine which is scientifically [proven], respected and internationally marketed,” she said.
Prof Motlalepula, however, said attaining that will need a drastic move “away from talking about the [natural] resources we have [for making herbal medicines] to what we can do with the resources.”
About 80 per cent of Africans use traditional medicines, according to WHO.
Prof Motlalepula said the global traditional medicine market will be at more than $140 billion by 2026.
Dr Musenero said there is need to bring “together modern education to support the African medicine.”
“We should make sure Africa provides solutions, starting with Covid-19. Covid-19 has shown us that there are diseases without medicine. We still don’t have a cure and that is a free space that we, as Africans, can compete,” she said.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK