WHO endorses protocol for Coronavirus herbal medicine trials

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The World Health Organization has endorsed a protocol for testing African herbal medicines as potential treatments for the coronavirus and other epidemics.

In a statement on Saturday, WHO said the 25 members of the Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 are tasked with supporting countries to enhance research and development of traditional medicine-based therapies against the virus.

They are also to guide the implementation of the approved protocols to generate scientific evidence on the quality, safety and efficacy of herbal medicines for COVID-19.

The development came months after a bid by the president of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina to promote a drink based on artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment, was met with widespread criticism.

The Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa Dr. Prosper Tumusiime, said 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. Tumusiime.

He stated that 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.

According to WHO, 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.

Dr. Tumusiime explains that if a traditional medicine product is found to be safe, WHO will recommend for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing to battle the pandemic.

The Committee members are from research institutions, national regulatory authorities, traditional medicine programs, public health departments, academia, medical and pharmacy professions and civil society organizations of Member States.

The Regional Expert Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 was formed by the World Health Organization, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs.

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