WHO discourages use of unapproved COVID home remedies

By Kenneth Matimaire

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it does not recommend the use of unapproved traditional medicines to treat Covid-19 at a time more Zimbabweans are resorting to home remedies to keep the disease at bay.

Traditional medicines such as Zumbani or Umsuzwane in isiNdebele, are now very popular with Zimbabweans as Covid-19 has no known cure.

Dr Lincoln Charimari,  a WHO official in Harare, Zimbabwe,  told journalists during a COVID-19 reporting workshop organised by MISA Zimbabwe,  there was no evidence yet that Zumbani, garlic, ginger, lemons and steaming, among other popular home remedies can effectively treat the disease.

“WHO encourages what is called evidence-based medicine,”  said Dr Charimari.

“When I was in medical school myself, many years ago, I was taught what is called evidence-based medicine. 

“And in evidence-based medicine, you don’t prescribe, you never prescribe medicine that you don’t know anything about.” 

He said there was no evidence to prove the efficacy and safety of traditional remedies that are widely used in Zimbabwe.

“So, if there is information that has been gathered by scientists on Zumbani, on garlic or on whatever … Give us that information and it can be assessed and WHO can have a position,” said Dr Charimari. 

“Without that information WHO cannot encourage use of those medicines.”

Although there is no known cure for Covid-19, many manufacturers have in recent months been rolling out vaccines to minimise the impact of the pandemic.

There are four vaccines that have been approved by the global health body to date, namely AstraZeneca, Johnson &Joshson, Pfizer-BioTech and Mordena. 

An additional 27 vaccines are currently undergoing the emergency use list and evaluation process with WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts. 

Zimbabwe started its Covid-19 vaccination programme last month and the country is currently using Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China that are approved for emergency use.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has recognised the need to harness indigenous medicines in the fight against Covid-19 through its traditional medicine department.

According to the ministry, traditional medicine means the sum of total knowledge and practice on holistic care, recognised and accepted by the community for its role in health delivery and treatment of diseases. 

Traditional medicine is based on theory, beliefs, faith and experiences that are indigenous to the different cultures and is developed and handed down from generation to generation.

The department derives its mandate from the Traditional Medical Practitioners Act Chapter 27:14 of 1996 monitored and administered by the parent health ministry.

Last year, the government authorised traditional herbalists to treat Covid-19 patients – a move that received widespread criticism from health professionals as most of them were not approved by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe.

Africa University (AU) is currently developing throat lozenges or cough drops from, among other ingredients, the Zumbani herb.

The university’s director of advancement and public affairs, Stephen Chikozho, is on record indicating that the cough drops were made from more than six ingredients, with the Zumbani plant being the main component.

The Zumbani medicinal cough drops are expected to help boost the immune system to fight off Covid-19.

Chikozho said our team is deeply engaged with the implementation of this project” expected to be launched soon.

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