The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement on Monday that it welcomes innovations including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for Covid-19.
The WHO says it recognises the benefits of traditional, complimentary and alternative medicine and acknowledges the role of traditional medicine and practitioners in Africa, among others.
“Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for Covid-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects. Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world.
“Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical.
It said that ministers of health in African countries at the fiftieth session of the WHO regional committee for Africa adopted a resolution to produce evidence of the safety and benefits of traditional medicine.
“Countries also agreed to undertake relevant research and require national medicines regulatory agencies to approve medicines in line with international standards, which include the product following a strict research protocol and undergoing tests and clinical trials.”
The WHO said it was working with research institutions to test selected medicines for clinical efficacy and safety for the treatment of Covid-19.
The organisation, which over the past two decades has worked with countries to ensure safe and effective traditional medicine development, says it will support countries exploring use of traditional practitioners in prevention, control and early detection of the virus, as well as case referral to health facilities.
“WHO has supported clinical trials, leading 14 countries to issue marketing authorisation for 89 traditional medicine products which have met international and national requirements for registration. Of these, 43 have been included in national essential medicines lists.
Such products were used to treat a range of diseases including malaria, opportunistic infections related to HIV, diabetes, sickle cell disease and hypertension, the WHO said.
“As efforts are under way to find treatment for Covid-19, caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies. Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimum requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy.
“The use of products to treat Covid-19, which have not been robustly investigated can put people in danger, giving a false sense of security and distracting them from hand washing and physical distancing, cardinal in Covid-19 prevention, and may also increase self-medication and the risk to patient safety.
“WHO welcomes every opportunity to collaborate with countries and researchers to develop new therapies and encourages such collaboration for the development of effective and safe therapies for Africa and the world,” the statement said.