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Nigerians turn to herbal medicine amid growing concern about safety of COVID-19 vaccine


Yusuf Mohammed

The word ‘vaccine’ sounds like poison to many Nigerians. The most common allegation making the rounds is that it is a ploy by the pharmaceutical industry and their sponsors “to make money and depopulate Africa.”

For this reason, more and more Nigerians are turning to herbal medicine, to ‘prevent’ the spread of Covid-19 despite having not proven to be a remedy for the pandemic which has claimed close to two million lives world-wide.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Covid-19 cases in Nigeria have surpassed 100,000. On January 13, 2020 alone, 1398 new cases and nine deaths were recorded in the country. At the time of filing this report, total cases were 103,000 with 1,373 deaths.

Statistics show that the second wave is worse than the situation last year when the novel virus hit the country.

However, the more statistics are being reeled out on a daily basis by NCDC, the more nonchalant Nigerians have become about the vaccine and safety protocols of COVID-19.

While the news of COVID-19 vaccines elicits excitement in other parts of the world, majority of Nigerians have chosen conspiracy theories over science.

A lot of Nigerians believe Covid-19 is a sham. Those who believe that Covid-19 is real are of the view that it is something our herbal medicine can  easily take care of.

Several prominent religious leaders and a few politicians have not helped matters and have sowed distrust in public health professionals and COVID-19 vaccines.

Nigerian Pastor, Chris Oyakhilome controversially described the COVID-19 vaccine as “very dangerous”, claiming it is a demonic tool to control people and alter their DNA.

No matter how ‘ridiculous’ it may sound to some people, a lot of people share this view.

Are these allegations baseless? Well, there is a saying that there is no smoke without fire. While some people dismiss their concerns as ‘dumb,’ others are of the view that there is a reason for their concerns.

For instance, the controversial 1996 drug trial by US-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer could be one of the main reasons many people in Nigeria, especially the northern part of the country are refusing to accept covid-19 vaccine.

25 years ago, in Kano, during an epidemic of meningococcal meningitis, in order to test its new antibiotic, trovafloxacin (Trovan), Pfizer with the backing of The World Health Organization (WHO) gave 100 children trovafloxacin, while another 100 received the gold-standard anti-meningitis treatment, ceftriaxone, a cephalosporin antibiotic.

Five children given trovafloxacin died, while six of those given ceftriaxone died. In all, 11 children died. Apart from the deaths, many children suffered various degrees of adverse effects ranging from deafness to muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech.

The Nigerian government and Kano State as a result, took Pfizer to court in 2007. The federal government filed a lawsuit of seven billion dollars for damages, while Kano was seeking $ 2.75 billion from the pharmaceutical giant. And in 2009, Pfizer agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

In 2011, Pfizer made the first compensation payment to Nigerian families affected by the controversial drug.

Fortunately and unfortunately, Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical company, is behind the COVID-19 vaccine slated for Nigeria by end of January.

In light of this, a renowned Nigerian Professor of Virology, Prof Oyewole Tamori is worried that trust deficit would not allow majority of Nigerians accept the much expected Pfizer Vaccines being expected in the country by the end of this month.

He said “The N200 billion vaccine will not eradicate COVID-19 as there is an astonishingly high level of trust deficit by the Nigerian people on the virus, resulting in vaccine apathy by a vast majority of the people.”

As a result of the lack of trust in vaccines, the Virology Professor is advocating for intensive risk communications down to rural areas as done for Polio vaccination as it was earlier resisted too.

He is advising the Federal Government to put on hold the importation of the vaccines until there is a reasonable level of trust by the people on COVID-19.

Before the availability of vaccines for this pandemic, some Nigerians advocated for Africa to look inwards instead of waiting for the western world for solutions.

One of them is Ooni of Ife, Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi (Ojaja II). Last year, the Ooni, prescribed a list of herbs he claimed has been tested to cure the novel coronavirus. His claims brought about mixed reactions.

Ooni challenged researchers in Nigeria to make natural herbs into clinical medicine and extract the vaccines from it. He said “I am ready to work with them and provide huge access to the herbs. It is real and it works. I have a lot gathered together for the use of mankind. The global pandemic should be an opportunity for us as a country to show the world what we are capable of and what we can do in terms of traditional medicine.”

Also, as part of the solutions, Ooni announced the launch of Pan African Foundation for Indigenous Medical Research and Development (PAFIMRD). He noted that stakeholders have been rallied round on indigenous herbal solutions for various ailments.

“The foundation will go beyond bounds and coordinate the activities of various herbal solutions and continue to exert more research and development with various medical institutions and work in tandem with our government.

Ooni of Ife is not alone in advocating for herbal medicine to combat COVID-19. He is in the company of Prof. Maurice Iwu who has been an advocate of herbal medicine for a long time. During the time of Ebola in Nigeria, Iwu spoke about how Garcinia Kola (Bitter Kola) could stop the replication of the virus.

Last year, Iwu spoke about the need for Nigerians to look inwards to prevent COVID-19.  Speaking with the press, he said, “The combination of Andrographis, Garcinia kola and Psidium guajava leaves in the already NAFDAC listed IHP -Detox Tea is an exciting product for the management of this pandemic.”

He has not backed down on his claims about herbal medicine for Covid-19 as he recently restated the efficacy of herbal medicine in the treatment of the COVID-19 cases as the virus enters a new phase globally.

The former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Professor of Pharmacognosy, stated that the effectiveness of special herbal drugs produced in the country, stands the chance of combating the disease at an early stage, but noted that the slow pace in acceptance and approval hinders its feasibility.

Iwu also pointed that herbal extracts from a plant, “Andrographis Paniculata”, commonly known as green chiretta, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand is on its way to serve as an alternative treatment to the severity of the ailment. He stated; “As indicated, the Thailand FDA has moved faster than us, although we discovered the drug years ago, our slow pace has become manifest here.

In line with Iwu’s advocacy, the University of Jos (UNIJOS) has authorized the use of a herbal tea, which it said has shown efficacy for the prevention of COVID-19.

In a memo on January 11, 2021 the university senate approved the consumption of the tea, produced in 2020 by the UNIJOS Africa Centre of Excellence in Phytomedicine Research and Development.

However, Mojisola Adeyeye, director-general of NAFDAC, recently said that she was not aware of any such approval and would have to check with the relevant directorate at the agency

But Simeon Omale, a pharmacologist who is one of the lead researchers, revealed that the centre only has a pre-conditional approval — and not a final nod — for the supplement.

He added that “we have done the research that NAFDAC needs to ascertain the safety of the product.”

“Herbal medicine is not like the normal orthodox drugs that you go through various stages of clinical trials. For herbal medicine, as long as people are taking it and it is safe, NAFDAC will just do a little profile to check how safe it is and they give you number,” he explained.

Hamza Suleiman a graduate of Bayero University Kano (BUK) told The Street Journal that “even if other parts of the country accept the vaccine, it is going to be difficult for us in the North to accept it because of our experience with Pfizer’s vaccine in the past”

Many of us will choose herbal medicine over Covid-19 vaccine. No matter how risky they say herbal medicine is, it can never be as harmful as the effects of vaccine. I have never heard that herbal medicine made anyone disabled. Vaccines have rendered many children disabled in the North,” he said.

As far as herbal medicine is concerned with regards to coronavirus, Madagascar was the first country to come up with a local solution called Covid-Organics (CVO).

Covid-Organics (CVO) is an Artemisia-based Ayurvedic drink that Andry Rajoelina, president of Madagascar, claims can prevent and cure COVID-19. The Ayurvedic drink is produced from a species under the Artemisia genus from which artemisinin is extracted for malaria treatment.

World Health Organizationn (WHO) released a statement warning Africans about Covid-Organics. Part of the statement read, “As efforts are underway to find treatment for COVID-19, caution must be taken against misinformation, especially on social media, about the effectiveness of certain remedies.”

The warning came after Madagascar introduced the drugs and delivered potions to several African countries.

Despite condemnations by the WHO, President Andry Rajoelina on October 20, 2020 inaugurated a medical factory named “Pharmalagasy” and officially started to produce CVO pills named “CVO-plus”.

While it is said that traditional medicine lacks biological plausibility, some scientists in orthodox medicine are crossing over to alternative medicine. In fact, some medical doctors, refer some of their patients to naturopathic doctors.

However, many medical doctors still try to discredit traditional medicine. One of the major complains is that these drugs are not measured properly.

Aliyu Yakubu who is medical doctor in a Kogi State hospital, in a telephone chat with The Street Journal is of the view that herbal medicine shouldn’t replace conventional medicine because the former is not regulated.

“Herbal medicine is complicated” he said. “It is highly risky in my opinion because they don’t tell the patient the dose to take. Unfortunately, some people even take it every day regardless of the consequences. You are not even sure of the mixture. How was it made?” he queried.


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