MEDICAL experts in the country, including pharmacists, nurses and laboratory scientists, have opposed the plan by the Federal Government to import a herbal tonic, COVID-Organics (CVO), from Madagascar for the treatment of coronavirus patients in Nigeria.
Pharmacists under the aegis of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and other health workers under the umbrella of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) provided reasons Nigeria should not import the herbal tonic from Madagascar.
JOHESU is the umbrella body of all health workers in Nigeria, excluding medical doctors. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, on Monday during the daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja, said Nigeria was expected to receive samples of COVID-Organics, the herbal medicine used by Madagascar to treat COVID-19 patients.
Mustapha, who doubles as the chairman of the task force, however, said that the herbal medicine would go through standard validation process before it could be considered for use in Nigeria.
But in a reaction yesterday, PSN rejected the plan to import the herbal tonic from Madagascar, describing it as “thoroughly disgraceful. ”President of PSN, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, said the plan became disgraceful because:
•Nigeria has about 174 universities (43 federal, 52 state and 79 private); 20 faculties of pharmacy and about 69 Federal Government-funded research institutes, including National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Abuja and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR),Yaba, Lagos while Madagascar has only six universities, one faculty of pharmacy and nine research centres.
• Nigeria has some of the best scientists (pharmaceutical, medical, biochemical, biological, among others) in the world who have done so much work on natural and herbal medicines.
•Nigeria has developed a pharmacopeia of natural and herbal products and has one of the richest flora and fauna–potent sources of phytomedicines.
•Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, a number of them have raised their voices that they have herbal and natural products that can be used to treat or manage COVID-19. Some have patents. Many herbal companies and producers have announced specifically that they have herbal formulations that can do what this ‘invention’ from Madagascar does.
Ohuabunwa said: “The PSN has received the news that the Federal Government of Nigeria is about to import a herbal concoction called COVID Organics (CVO) from Madagascar with utter disbelief. While in principle we would not mind Nigerian government importing any new drug that is proven to cure COVID-19 or indeed any other disease for which we have neither the capacity, nor the technology to produce locally, we are totally appalled that Nigeria is about to spend scarce foreign exchange to ‘import coal into Newcastle’. Even if we are not going to pay for this, it is thoroughly disgraceful that a country that should be the leader of Africa, with the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will allow itself to be dragged this low.”
The PSN boss recalled that pharmacists had raised their voices severally that the Federal Government should review these claims by local experts and help put their inventions through clinical evaluation, as most of them could not afford to conduct clinical trials.
According to him, pharmacists have recommended that a portion of the nearly N25 billion donated/allocated for the COVID-19 pandemic should be dedicated for local research and development, but the government has remained essentially silent, only waiting to participate in the World Health Organisation (WHO)-sponsored or mandated trials.
“We have been told that Nigeria is participating in the WHO solidarity trial, but nothing on trying our own inventions and formulations.” Ohuabunwa added: “Now we want to import COVID Organics from Madagascar to try? Why are we like this? If the world can supply us synthetic and chemically sophisticated medicines which we apparently lack the technology to produce, why must we wait for the world to supply us herbal formulations which we can easily make because we have similar products?
“We urge our government to save Nigerian pharmaceutical scientists and other scientists from the shame of having our country import and try herbal remedies which God has given us in abundance and some of which our grandfathers and grandmothers have used for ages. Let us try our own local formulations before we try COVID Organics or any other imported remedy. Every well-meaning nation has been in a race to find cures, remedies and other medical supplies used for COVID-19, while we seem to wait for other nations to solve our problems. There is much talk but little action.
“This dependency mentality needs to change and now is the time. We must seize this opportunity to look inwards, build confidence in our abilities and competences, and re-orientate our national economic philosophy from import dependency to export driven. Nigeria can beat India and China in the production and export of herbal products if anyone is willing to lead us down this part.”
A traditionalist and Chief Executive Officer, Olaking International Holistic Medicine, Dr. Qazeem Olawale, lauded government’s search for solution in herbal medicine, but said the move was in a wrong direction.
The microbiologist, who had challenged the Federal Government in the past to bring COVID-19 patients to him for treatment, said herbal medicine had proven its worth in the healthcare sector.
“It will be a great stride in the fight against Covid-19 to have a cure proven to treat and manage coronavirus. It is also a good development that the government is heeding our long-standing call for integrative medicine approach in the fight against the virus.
“It is, however, sad that government does not have sufficient belief in the traditional medicine practitioners who are learned and professionals in their practice. It embitters that we embrace a solution from Madagascar even though we have everything it takes to develop and produce locally made herbs that will aid in the fight against Covid-19. Long before Covid Organics came, we pleaded with the Federal Government to recognize the traditional medicine in the fight against Covid-19. We are giants of Africa and we should be the one leading in innovative and integrative ways of attending to problems like this. No matter how efficacious, a vital principle of natural medicine is that no cure is as efficient for a group of people than a cure developed from their own locality.
“This is simply because we have more than what is required to cure this disease in no time. It’s high time we embraced our indigenous herbs, otherwise, we would not be helping ourselves healthwise and economy wise,” he said. He urged the government to call on traditional and alternative medicine practitioners to come forth to defend their claims.
The Chairman of JOHESU, Comrade Bio Joy Josiah, told The Guardian: “Ordinarily, one will wonder why the Federal Government will start with a Madagascan herbal tonic. It is better to make further enquiries on this matter for informed decision-making.
“We have an emergency on our hands right now. Naturally, people want anything that brings a remedy at reasonable cost. Our attitude should be to allow any remedy that has successfully passed through due process of the scientific evaluations/protocol at National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to be used at this time. So, whether it is a Somalian, Chadian or Nigerien tonic would not really matter as long as it brings relief without adverse reactions or other negative consequences to a consumer.”
On whether he would recommend herbal remedies for COVID-19, Josiah said: “Our pharmacists give the impression that all drugs are basically of natural origin. We are a nation blessed with trees, leaves, barks, roots and so on, so it will be delightful to witness the use of herbal preparations in the health system.
“In the last few weeks, I have read claims of all sorts including those of a former acting vice chancellor of a first generation university and accomplished pharmacist who all insinuate that they have herbal remedies for COVID-19. I will volunteer to be the foremost promoter and marketer for any such product provided that there is scientific validation and endorsement from NAFDAC, which is statutorily mandated to carry out such functions.”
On Prof. Maurice Iwu’s claim, the JOHESU chairman said: “It is still in the same realm as the last insight I provided. Prof. Iwu’s claim was one of those I referred to earlier. Iwu is an internationally acclaimed researcher, so he is more familiar with this terrain than I am. Science is about facts and not magic like some will like to relegate it to become.
“It is on this note that I am encouraging all researchers in herbal medicine to subject their formulations to clinical trials for eventual registration for use.”
Besides, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) berated President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly abandoning the development of homegrown remedies only to seek a solution from Madagascar even when Nigeria brims with curative resources against ailments such as COVID-19.
The party said that “while it had nothing against any genuine effort to secure therapeutics for COVID-19, such solutions as developed by Madagascar abound in Nigeria but had remained untapped because of the failure of the Buhari administration to heed wise counsel to look inwards for answers.”
The PDP lamented that the government jettisoned its advice “to acknowledge our indigenous potential and mobilize homegrown solutions, given our abundant curative flora, globally recognized healing traditions as well as experienced researchers and experts in various institutions across our country, but to no avail.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said: “Instead, the Buhari Presidency and its inept Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 sat on our national potential to wait for foreign solutions, while other African leaders are busy looking inwards for remedies.
“It is indeed despicable and shameful that instead of leading other African countries for solutions, as the Giant of Africa, President Buhari’s incompetent, lethargic, indolent and aimless administration is going to Madagascar to purchase remedies that abound in our country.”
Meanwhile, the Federal government has said it is in a hurry to obtain a homegrown cure for the coronavirus disease just like other countries of the world and assured indigenous researchers who have developed any potential drug for Covid-19 that they will receive appropriate certification if found fit for human consumption.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mustapha, who stated this at the daily update on COVID-19 in Abuja, observed that since the recording of the index case, Nigerians had clamoured for research into a homegrown solution to COVID-19.
He noted that “some countries are trying to abridge the processes of trials to shorten the time as we are not expecting any vaccine to be on the shelve until towards the end of 2021 for industries that have perfected the processes of manufacturing the vaccine.”
Mustapha, therefore, appealed to researchers to be patient and subject their drugs to regulatory processes so that if they were found fit for human consumption, they would receive appropriate certification
He said: “I listened to one of the drug manufacturers in US saying that they will provide the world with billions of vaccine by the end of 2021. We are in 2020 and this is the time Covid-19 is ravaging the entire world, but we are not in a hurry to release those drugs. So my appeal to our homegrown researchers is to be patient and go through regulatory process so that if their drugs are found fit for human consumption, they will receive appropriate certification.
“The processes of examining, trials and validation of drugs are staggered in different stages and take a very long time. Government will not like to end up in a situation the country found itself in the past with a polio vaccine by one of the manufacturers becoming a subject of litigation. The PTF, as part of its mandate, has continued to promote research and wishes to repeat its appeal to all our researchers to go through the validation process so as to enable humanity to benefit from their hard work and they in turn benefit from the intellectual property rights associated with such research.”
The SGF called on corporate citizens and public-spirited individuals to invest in the rural health infrastructure to enable the country to contain the community spread of coronavirus.
Mustapha observed that given the impact of the COVID-19 on global economy and national income, it had become obvious that government alone could not bear this burden as the situation requires a great deal of investment in strengthening the primary health care system, the manpower and the infrastructure.
“As we continue to learn the lessons from COVID-19 by fortifying our health systems and infrastructure against present and future pandemics, I wish to remind Nigerians that there is still a lot to be done and investment to make. The PTF mentioned at the briefing on Monday 11th May 2020 that it had commenced focus on community ownership, guidance, acceptance and implementation in the control of COVID-19.”
The SGF warned Nigerians against the use of recycled surgical face masks picked from dump sites, saying they were not only hazardous to the user but also to other people.
Mustapha who also spoke against the sharing of masks noted that such actions could lead to the risks of contracting the coronavirus. He urged Nigerians to always dispose properly of their surgical masks or at best burn them.
The PTF Coordinator, Dr.Sani Aliyu stated that any medication coming into the country, whether herbal cure or concoction, must be subjected to regulatory processes, adding that the Madagascar cure being expected into the country would be subjected to a lot of processes within the legal framework to ascertain its safety and efficacy before it could be administered to the people.
The Minister of Health, Dr.Osagie Ehanire urged the organs of state to maintain vigilant at the borders.According to him, the Federal Ministry of Health has been closely monitoring and reviewing the unfolding situation in some states, where Covid-19 appears to have gained ground and has responded to the situation in Kano by dispatching a team of medical experts to provide technical support to the state ministry of health.
He said: “I am happy to inform that the team has done well in their assignment and has reported a lot of success in helping to stabilize the state’s health system and assuage the disquiet among health workers who are to restart routine service delivery. No new infection of health workers has been reported in recent times, as those who have recovered are awaiting certification to resume work.
“A FMoH delegation of experts is presently in Bauchi State on a fact-finding mission to work with the state government and look into reports of unexplained deaths in Azare. The similar missions to Katsina and Jigawa identified needs in those states, which include a molecular laboratory in Katsina, to reduce the backlog of pending tests and the turn-around time for results. This will be looked into. Other high burden areas or states grappling epidemic control issues will be offered similar support.”
He commended the ongoing initiative being developed by the Governors’ Forum to give each other mutual support by rallying available human resource for health volunteers from some states, to support other states with high burden and manpower shortages.
Ehanire said government would continue to ramp up COVID19 testing capacity “by adding three new molecular laboratories to our network at Benin City and two in Port Harcourt, which will bring the present total to 25. An expert advisory committee will assist with an audit of our laboratory processes with a view to offering suggestions on strategies to reduce testing turn-around time and other user interest matters.
The minister also said that the number of isolation centres and beds nationwide was increasing with the Thisday Dome commissioned in Abuja and providing the most comprehensive panel of medical services for COVID-19, including lab testing ICU, and dialysis.