WHO Endorses Clinical Trials of African Herbal Medicine for COVID-19

Will branching away from typical western medicine do the trick?
Fabienne Lang

The world is racing to find a suitable vaccine and treatment to fight against COVID-19. Clinical trials of vaccines are already underway, and as of Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed proper clinical trials of traditional African herbal medicines.

The hope is to find a treatment for the coronavirus, as well as other viruses. 

The WHO's decision highly encourages clinical trials that are similar to those typically run in labs in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. 



The decision to endorse traditional herbal medicines in Africa came from a combination of organizations that comprise the WHO, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs. 

Dr Prosper Tumusiime, Director of Universal Health Coverage and Life Course Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa, said in a statement "Just like other areas of medicine, sound science is the sole basis for safe and effective traditional medicine therapies."

So even though the organizations are endorsing phase 3 of clinical trials of herbal medicines, these should be as scientifically sound as possible. 

Phase 3 clinical trials are the pivotal moment during medicinal research, as these determine whether or not the drug will be widely used around the world. They provide proof that a new medicine is efficacious and safe.

"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," explained Dr Tumusiime.

In the statement, the WHO stressed that if one of these traditional African herbal medicines safely passes through its clinical phase 3 trials, the "WHO will recommend (it) for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing," added Dr Tumusiime.

The safety of participants in these clinical trials is paramount to the WHO and other linked organizations. The Expert Committee Chairman, Motlalepula Gilbert Matsabisa, assured in the WHO statement that "The adoption of the technical documents will ensure that universally acceptable clinical evidence of the efficacy of herbal medicines for the treatment of COVID-19 are generated."

The WHO has been looking into the matter of using traditional medicine against the coronavirus for a few months now, so it comes as a positive step forward for many. 

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