As the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic looms, the government has revealed plans to integrate traditional medicine into mainstream healthcare, citing effectiveness, safety, easy access and affordability.
The integration plan comes amid the skepticism and reluctance of many physicians regarding the safety and effectiveness of traditional medicines.
Many people, including those who subscribe to certain radical Christian perspectives, are reluctant to adopt traditional medicines.
But the world health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), says up to 60% of Ugandans still use traditional medicine, with the advent of Covid-19 increasing demand for drugs.
The National Drug Authority (NDA) has so far approved two herbal drugs – Covidex and Vidicine as supportive therapy for Covid-19, or for the management of associated symptoms, but others are also used without the initial approval.
All herbal medicines have yet to undergo clinical trials to prove whether they cure Covid-19.
Dr Monica Musenero, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, told government scientists and herbalists at the celebration of the 19th Traditional African Medicine Day in Kampala on Thursday that they had made plans clear to ensure that traditional medicine is treated like conventional medicines in health care.
The plans, said Dr Musenero, include training herbalists in basic medical knowledge and good manufacturing practices, and training medical students in traditional medicines.
She said the government plans to set up a specialized clinical trial center for natural medicines at Mulago Hospital, providing funds for testing and ensuring that all natural products are subjected to testing. clinical trials and respect the property rights of developers.
The minister, like other high-level experts at the event, blamed the negativity of some doctors and others on traditional medicine on three major issues, including the brainwashing of colonialists and missionaries to control and sell their drugs to Africans.
“It’s not that our people lacked knowledge [about natural medicine and their potential to heal], but the feeling of helplessness in the face of these [colonial] powerful system, which puts our drugs on the back burner and makes you look like you’re backward. And so names like traditional medicine, herbal medicine, alternative medicine [came up]… Why not medicine! If it’s medicine, then it’s medicine. Why are we trying to make it inferior? ” she asked.
“I have read and studied a lot of the herbs that we have around and the information is right there. A lot of people have done research and the evidence is clear that we have antivirals in our neighborhood, ”she added.
Professor Patrick Ogwang, clinical pharmacist and developer of Covidex, citing the case of a child who presented with a rare condition that caused the child’s foot to rot last month, said the foot had been cured using herbal remedies. He said that natural medicines can cure illnesses that synthetic medicines have failed to cure.
Professor Motlalepula Matsabisa told Ugandan scientists and herbalists that traditional medicine has unique benefits for dealing with Covid-19, including long-term effects of the disease that synthetic medicines cannot.
Professor Motlalepula is a pharmacologist and senior program manager in indigenous knowledge systems (health) at the Free State University in South Africa.
“A lot of traditional medicines are actually good for coughs, fever, and they have antivirals, anti-inflammatories and immunomodulators, antioxidants, and blood thinners. These are some of the products that are important in the treatment of Covid-19, ”he said.
Immunomodulation refers to the regulatory adjustment of the immune system. The decline or lack of immune modulation in the body is one of the biggest contributors to severe illness and death from Covid-19.
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 of last year.
Antioxidants prevent or delay cell death, thus helping the body resist infections, while anticoagulants prevent blood clots, which is one of the ways Covid-19 causes death.
Common antioxidant-rich herbs include oranges, mangoes, berries, and watermelon, while herbs rich in blood thinners include turmeric, ginger, red pepper, and garlic.
Dr Musenero said the government is focused on developing a pathogenic economy and traditional medicine development and research will be essential to achieve the goals.
She said the government is also considering herbs to combat drug resistance that increases the cost of medical care and death.
“I am neither for herbalists nor for medicine. I am for African medicine which is scientifically [proven], respected and marketed internationally, ”she said.
Professor Motlalepula, however, said that achieving this would require a drastic movement “away from talking about [natural] resources we have [for making herbal medicines] what we can do with the resources.
About 80 percent of Africans use traditional medicines, according to the WHO.
Prof Motlalepula said the global traditional medicine market will reach over $ 140 billion by 2026.
Dr Musenero said there was a need to bring together “modern education to support African medicine”.
“We need to make sure Africa provides solutions, starting with Covid-19. Covid-19 has shown us that there are diseases without drugs. We still have no cure and this is a free space that we Africans can compete for, ”she said.