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African traditional medicine experts engage WHO

MBONGENI MGUNI
Zwelinzima Vavi PIC: Twitter
At least 70 African traditional medicine experts have met with World Health Organisation officials with an agreement made that clinical trials for treatment of the coronavirus (COVID-19) must be conducted for all medicines proposed by the continent "without exception".

In a statement this morning, the WHO said the virtual meeting was attended by African traditional medicine experts. The meeting was called to discuss the role of traditional medicine in the COVID-19 response.

Africa’s proposed medicines to treat, manage or slow the coronavirus have been met with stiff resistance from the established scientific and academic corps, who have argued that the medicines are being recommended and even used on patients without being verified. Madagascar, which is promoting a variant of the locally prevalent lengana herb (Artemisia afra, African wormwood) is giving a tonic to its citizens and has signed up at least 10 African countries to its cure.

African traditionalists have proposed several medicines and methods to treat or slow the coronavirus, including the lengana herb. Former COSATU secretary general, Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday credited the lengana herb with his recent recovery from the coronavirus, reigniting debate around African solutions for the pandemic.

“Traditional herbs have been used by our people for hundreds of years well before the existence of pharmacists,” he posted on Twitter.

“I used everything from this (lengana) to what is on offer in the pharmacy.” 

He added: “There is no vaccine or cure for this enemy. I was asked to go home, isolate, rest and let the body fight. But then I used every supplement to boost the immune system so that the body fights. From ukufutha (steaming under a blanket) to using traditional methods to protect the body from catching flu.”

In the global race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, mainstream scientists have pointed out that traditional African proposals

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bypass rigorous lab study, trials, peer review and authentication by established centres. In addition, any search for vaccines, scientists say, has to include antibodies produced as a response to infection by the virus, which African traditional medicines do not do.

Proponents of the African solutions, however, have said the medicines are age-old cures to a variety of lung and flu-related illnesses and have proven effective through the generations. Proponents say the medicines are effective in supporting treatment of coronavirus, with Madagascar reporting 101 recoveries out of 186 cases with no deaths.

The debate between African traditionalists and the mainstream has often turned ugly with allegations of discrimination and even racism. The latter has been fuelled in particular by the revelation early last month that French doctors were suggesting a vaccine be tested on Africans first, despite the continent having lower numbers of cases and deaths from the pandemic.

The WHO has said it is ready to work with African traditional medicine experts, but trials are critical.

“Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and traditional healers who play an important role in the care of populations,” the organisation said.

“Herbal remedies such as artemisia annua (Madagascar’s herb) are considered possible treatments for COVID-19, but trials should be carried out to assess their effectiveness and determine their side effects.

“Africans deserve to use drugs tested to the standards that apply to drugs made for people in the rest of the world.

“Even when treatments come from traditional practice and from nature, it is essential to establish their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials.”



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