Nigerian pharmaceutical scientists under the aegis of the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas, NAPPSA, have drawn the attention of government to the danger in using non-evidence-based herbal preparations in treating COVID-19, saying it portends grave consequences for the nation.
The association said it has been monitoring the development in the country, with several unsubstantiated claims for cure of COVID-19, on social media, inform of science misconceptions and disinformation, fuelled by unethical claims by some scientists without presenting their scientific evidence.
In a press statement jointly signed by the President, Dr Anthony Ikeme, and Secretary, Dr Aloysius Ibe, NAPPSA presented it position on the situation saying: “We strongly recommend that drugs to treat or prevent COVID-19 be evaluated in randomised clinical trials (RCT).
“Since clinical trials for therapeutics are regulated by NAFDAC, the agency should issue guidance on the development of drugs with direct antiviral activity, immunomodulatory activity or other mechanisms of action. The federal government should also be fully committed to supporting R&D efforts for COVID-19.
“Scientific discoveries are announced first through scientific publications and not to the media. Any scientist rushing to the press to make such claims without passing through the scientific community should no t be taken seriously”, it said.
Benefits of evidence-based practice
Listing the benefits of evidence-based practice, to include provision for replicability, standardization, future improvements, peer review and validation by the rest of the global scientific community, it said Nigeria, in particular and Africa, in general, will be shortchanging herself if scientific norms are compromised in the quest for quick victories.
Consequences of using scientifically unproven remedies
The association therefore stated that failure to follow due process portends unfavourable consequences to Nigeria or any African nation in many ways, namely:
“Safety: It encourages the proliferation of wild untested therapeutic claims which is a breeding ground for unsafe use of therapeutic agents with huge implications for public health.
“Credibility Questions: Claims of scientific breakthrough without equivalent scientific evidence leads to loss of credibility in the eyes of the world. Our authorities and national image risk such credibility questions if we accept these therapies without due scientific rigor.
“Limits Opportunity: If Nigeria or any other country in Africa discover the cure for COVID-19, we should not only use it to save our people but it should be opened up as a therapeutic option for the rest of the world and Africa should be recognised by the rest of the world for that accomplishment and should derive the economic benefits that comes with it. None of this will happen without demonstrable evidence of therapeutic value through a robust scientific process”, it warned.
Expressing it stand on the reception of the Madagascar herbal mixture, COVID-Organics, by the Nigerian government, the association noted its fears about the uncertainty surrounding the directive to submit the herbal formulation for safety and efficacy tests by NIPRD, as there are no clear cut statements on the validation process.
The statement reads in part:
“The pronouncements by both the Nigerian Minister of Health and Secretary to Federal Government that the herbal drug from Madagascar would be subjected to analysis by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to determine its efficacy and safety, before it can be adopted for the treatment of COVID-19 are not quite assuring.
“Firstly, the order to import refers to “Nigeria’s Quota” of the syrup in a manner suggestive that this is the cure we have been waiting for. Secondly, there is no clarity on what the “validation process” for the product entails. Any truncated or abbreviated “validation process” short of well-conducted clinical trials will not provide adequate scientific evidence needed to ensure that the herb is safe and therapeutically effective for COVID-19.
“Finally, since artemisia (the major component of the Madagascar syrup) is widely grown in Nigeria, the federal government should engage the endowed local research community in conducting clinical trials within the country in lieu of open-handedly embracing the importation of an unsubstantiated herbal product.
“We are mindful that the COVID-19 pandemic demands scientists with expertise and know-how to expedite the search and discovery of new therapeutic remedies for the coronavirus disease and to save lives. But this effort should not be at the expense of quality and scientific rigor”, it maintained.