by Vuthlarhi Shirindza
Yes, I know, yet another COVID19 article. But this time the decolonised treatment version. Coronavirus disease, COVID-19, has caused an international outbreak of acute respiratory illness. Currently, there are no specific therapeutic agents for this disease, due to its broad clinical spectrum. But four researchers knew that herbal medicine has played an important role in controlling infectious diseases. So one day, they sat together and wondered what the effectiveness and adverse events of herbal medicines for the treatment of COVID-19 were. Interesting, right?
To answer this very pertinent question, they searched through twelve databases for eligible randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to provide the answer. They found seven RCTs, with a total of 855 patients, which compared the combined therapy of herbal medicine with Western medicine to Western medicine alone. They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of these RCTs.
The results showed that the combined therapy significantly improved the total effective rate, cough symptom disappearance rate, and sputum production symptom disappearance rate. The beneficial effects of the combined therapy were also seen through a reduced severity score on the most common symptoms such as cough, fever, dry and sore throat, and fatigue. Much to the dismay of ‘anti-herbalists’, no serious adverse events were reported. “Significant effects of the combined therapy of herbal medicine with Western medicine were found, and this has revealed the potential role of herbal medicine in treating COVID-19”. That was the concluding statement by the researchers, but one that will most probably never be echoed by western governments or the WHO.
The main findings from the research paper is that herbal medicine in combination with Western medicine improves and reduces the symptoms of COVID19 patients.
The researchers mentioned that the Chinese National Health Commission has declared the use of herbal medicine combined with Western medicine as a treatment for COVID-19, and has issued many guidelines on herbal medicine-related therapy. As a country enriched by an array of biomes, from Fynbos to the Karoos, you would assume that plants sourced from our backyards would form part of the recommended treatment of COVID19 in this country, but it does not. Herbal medicine has always been viewed as taboo through western lenses- the dangerous stepsibling to the beloved and trusted Western medicine. Sadly, our South African national authorities have also fallen trap to this Western doctrine and brainwashing. Although the general South African public can attest to taking herbal medication and can confirm its efficacy, this same narrative does not stretch into government policy.
Understandably, the risk of side effects due to the potency of herbal medication is a major concern and drug-drug interactions need to be considered, especially for non-scientifically evaluated herbal medication. However, there is surely enough laboratory methodologies, expertise and funding to produce or verify clinically safe, efficacious and approved herbal medications. Why is South Africa and other African countries not running trials to see the efficacy of Africa-endemic herbal treatment on COVID19 patients, as was recommended by the researchers?
The South African Department of Health has the liberty to treat hospitalised patients with herbal medication and to advocate for the use of pharmacy- bought herbal medication under various trade names. To our detriment, African governments are too focused on copying the trends of more European countries instead of using our own expertise and X-factor ingredients to champion the fight against COVID19 in a decolonised fashion.
Dear South African government, decolonise COVID19 treatment.
Ang L, Song E, Lee HW, Lee MS. Herbal Medicine for the Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Clin Med. 2020;9(5):1583. Published 2020 May 23. doi:10.3390/jcm9051583