The World Health Organization has endorsed a protocol to put African herbal medicines through clinical trials as possible treatments for COVID-19 and other epidemics. The organization also endorsed a charter and terms of reference to establish a data and safety monitoring board for these trials.
"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," says Dr. Prosper Tumusiime, Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
In endorsing both the clinical trials and the monitoring board, the organization hopes to empower scientists in Africa to conduct clinical trials on potential treatments that ensure the quality, safety, and efficacy of traditional medicines meet international standards.
As a part of the protocol, would any medicines from trials be considered effective and safe, the WHO will then recommend them for fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing. According to Dr. Tumusiime, there is currently a benchmark from which clinical trials of medicines and vaccines in the region could be assessed and approved in less than 60 days.
The news comes after earlier claims from Madagascar that a herbal concoction, known as Covid-Organics, is able to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While results from clinical trials have not been made public, the president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, says that free distribution of the drink was responsible for low infection rates in the Madagascan capital's suburbs in August. The drink has also been distributed to several other African nations as a 'cure' for the virus.
There is, however, no other evidence on the tonic's efficacy. An official from Nigeria's National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development said, "They are hiding a lot of things, and I think it is possible that they know that they don't have strong science backing up their claim. But our own analysis does not show any proof that it can cure COVID-19."