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WHO endorses testing of traditional medicines for Covid-19

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.

CAPE TOWN –  The issue of using traditional medicine in the fight against Covid-19 has been put to rest after the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed a protocol for testing African herbal medicines as potential treatments for the Coronavirus and other pandemics.

This move by the global health body comes months after a bid by the president of Madagascar to promote a drink based on umhlonyane (artemisia), a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment, was met with widespread scorn.

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It is estimated that across Africa, there is one doctor for every 40,000, but one traditional healer for every 500. By integrating their expertise and knowledge into the existing national health system, with appropriate safeguards, countries can bolster the deficit in medical personnel. 

“Just like other areas of medicine, sound science is the sole basis for safe and effective traditional medicine therapies. 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,” said Dr Prosper Tumusiime, Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa.

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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.

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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.

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