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Experts divided over Madagascar’s COVID-19 drug

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Medical experts in the country are divided over the Federal Government’s acceptance of the herbal tonic from Madagascar for the treatment of coronavirus patients in Nigeria.

While pharmacists and the pioneer Director-General, Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Prof. Charles Wambebe, are against the acceptance, an alternative medical practitioner and Managing Director of Iris Medical Foundation, Dr. Paul Ojeih Jnr. commended President Muhammad Buhari for accepting the tonic as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) urged caution.

Wambebe, who is a professor of pharmacology, Chair of Product Research and Development for Africa and President of International Biomedical Research for Africa, told The Guardian yesterday: “I do not support importing any new medical product (herbal or orthodox) which has not been subjected to clinical trials for safety and efficacy.”

On his view on the use of herbal medicine to containCOVID-19, Wambebe, who is also an honorary professor of pharmacology, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda, said: “I recommend it. But such herbal products must be validated scientifically for safety, efficacy and quality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the criteria for research and development of new medical products are safety, efficacy and quality irrespective of whether it is herbal medicine or orthodox product. The criteria do not change for herbal medicines.

“There are clear guidelines developed by the WHO for establishing the safety, efficacy and quality of new medicines at the preclinical level, which involves laboratory investigations and animal studies. It is after such studies indicate that the potential herbal medicine or phytomedicine is safe and efficacious for its intended therapeutic use, that protocol is developed for clinical trials in humans. Such a protocol must go through the appropriate ethics committee and the national medicine regulatory authority. The clinical trials can only commence after these two bodies have approved.

“I strongly believe that our biodiversity is rich in potential medicines. Furthermore, I believe some of our traditional health practitioners have indigenous medical knowledge that we can tap into through appropriate collaboration. Such collaborations between traditional health practitioners and the biomedical scientists can yield new medicines for the treatment of different diseases including COVID-19.”

Wambebe gave reasons the Federal Government should pay attention to Prof. Maurice Iwu’s claims.

“I know Professor Iwu personally to be a serious scientist. He is also a friend. Actually, while in USA, I visited him at Walter Reed Army Research Institute, Washington DC. Unfortunately, I am not privy to the scientific data on the product that he indicated might be effective for treating COVID-19. However, when I listened to his presentation on Channels TV, it was clear to me that he wanted to undertake randomized double blind controlled clinical trial. He even indicated some doctors who were willing to work with him on the clinical trials. That is the correct approach. Once the clinical trials are conducted, and the results are positive vis-à-vis safety and efficacy of the product, Iwu can then apply to the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for its registration. That pertains to the isolated compound from an indigenous medicinal plant.

“The second product which is a phytomedicine already registered by NAFDAC needs to be repurposed for use against COVID-19. I am not aware if Prof. Iwu has already applied to NAFDAC accordingly. I am sure when he applies to NAFDAC, the application will be adequately evaluated by experts. The outcome of their evaluation will then be made known to him. It is the responsibility of NAFDAC, after reviewing the available scientific and clinical data on that phytomedicine, to advise on additional studies that should be undertaken before the phytomedicine can be repurposed for use against COVID-19.”

Ojeih, who lauded the adoption of the herbal tonic, told The Guardian: “Madagascar, a tiny island nation of 20 million people, has unfortunately blazed the trail in discovering a cure; this would have been Nigeria. I still believe our able government led by President Buhari, is not relenting on seeking an indigenous cure.

“We applaud the Federal Government for going to Madagascar. It shows President Buhari is in touch with the grassroots. He wants this virus out as quickly as possible. Truly he is the father of the nation. A lot of people do not support this move, but what if you were in his shoes, you will definitely do the same. While the Madagascar drug is forthcoming, Venedi Elixir from Iris Medical Foundation should be put to test. Remember he who claims must prove it.”

Also, President, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, told journalists yesterday: “The acceptance of the herbal remedy from Madagascar ‘Covid Organics’ by the Federal Government is an act of pulling all stops in search of remedial interventions in protecting the lives of our citizens. We appreciate the concerns of our colleagues in the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and bemoan the situation where Nigeria appears to be lagging behind and not leading the Black race in response to the pandemic. NMA insists that the herbal mixture should undergo due diligence based on scientific methods before being authorized for use in the polity. We also urged the government to leapfrog the revitalisation of research and production activities of our pharmaceutical industries.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of labour and civil society groups working on the impact of COVID-19 across Nigeria yesterday said the federal and state governments must increase their testing capacity in order to have a full picture of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic.

The group, Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB) led by a lawyer and human rights activists, Femi Falana (SAN), said that without mass and effective testing of Nigerians, the daily figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) would fall short of representing the actual extent of the outbreak.

“Nigeria currently has a testing capacity for 1,500 people, which is one of the lowest per average in the world. Nigeria is far from knowing her real coronavirus pandemic status. The total number of Nigerians confirmed to be positive as at last week was about 4,300. This does not appear to reflect the reality given the poor public access to testing. It is unfortunate that Nigerian testing capacity is lower than what is obtainable in Egypt, Ghana and South Africa,” ASCAB said in a statement signed by the group’s publicity secretary, Mr.Adewale Adeoye.

The group said the various authorities have effectively enforced the lockdown while in many cases government officials break the no-travel and social distancing rules.

“We cannot claim to know the average number of people that have contracted coronavirus in Nigeria. The testing capacity for 200 million people is very poor. Brazil tests about 8,000 people in just one day. It means in 10 days, Brazil tests 80,000 people, almost three times the number of tests carried out in 60 days in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the Publicity Secretary, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Youth Alliance and Director General, Global Initiative for Good Governance, Chief Emeka Kalu, has joined other well-meaning Nigerians to call on the President Buhari-led Federal Government to, as a matter of duty to the electorate, give an update on the whereabouts of the Chinese doctors who came into the country.

In a statement by his media and publicity aide, Amos Kalu, made available to journalists yesterday, Kalu said that it was becoming worrisome, especially considering the apprehension that heralded the arrival of the 15 Chinese doctors, why such visitors could just disappear in the country without any trace.
“We’ve been taken aback by the characteristic style of secrecy of this administration that always tackles issues without considering the feelings of the led. But I am more concerned that while most people believed that the Chinese doctors were coming to cause more harm, people like me demanded we give the administration the benefit of the doubt, knowing that in good wisdom they would not make decisions that will harm Nigerians.

“But we seem to have been kept in the dark as to what is going on around us. COVID-19 confirmed cases have continued to skyrocket on a daily basis which has proved the sceptics right. But I believe it is time for Buhari and his men to bring us out of the woods.

“Where are the doctors? What was their mission in the first place? Did they achieve it and have left or are they still with us in this country? This is the time they have to tell us every truth concerning this matter so that we can know what we are dealing with,” he said.

Kalu insisted that it was the right of Nigerians to be adequately informed about sensitive issues concerning their lives and demanded that the government should stop keeping the people in the dark by telling them what they need to know about the doctors that visited them from China.


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