When Prof Patrick Ogwang and Mbarara University of Science and Technology brought forth Covidex, the National Drug Authority (NDA) - a body established by law to ensure the availability of quality medicines in Uganda, quickly warned the general public against the unregulated use of the unapproved Covidex herbal drug.
Soon Covidex worked like magic, NDA bowed to pressure and allowed the use of the same in the treatment and management of Covid-19. As a person who has lost two loved ones to Covid-19, I usually encourage anyone to use and do whatever they know so as to boost their immunity against covid-19.
Three friends who battled Covid-19 recently approached me and they testified that Covidex worked like a charm but even the best charm does have its own benefits and side effects.
As we further descend into the role of the NDA in the manufacture, distribution and quality check in quality medicines, let’s not forget the importance of clinical trials.
A clinical trial is a process in which a new medicine is tested over time to justify its benefits in treating and managing health complications, diseases, infections, etc. and this enables researchers to understand the benefits of the medicine vis-à-vis its side effects.
Furthermore, clinical trials ensure that medicines availed to the public are the most effective towards the treatment and management of the disease they were established for.
This research process usually lasts several years involving many study participants with different backgrounds and characteristics.
What NDA now seeks before herbal medicines are approved and made available to Ugandans, is a research process that can show that the herbal medicine has been scientifically tested and it has demonstrated to be the most efficacious and only a clinical trial can answer that question.
But truthfully speaking, clinical trials are expensive ventures. For instance, Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation based in the US, manufactures and produces the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This is a body responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, to be 95% efficacious in the treatment and management of Covid-19, is reported to have received about $1.9 billion (about Shs 6.84 trillion) for vaccine development, whereas Moderna, whose vaccine efficacy rate stands at 94.1%, is reported to have received $483 million (Shs 1.739 trillion) from the US government for vaccine development.
As such, without the much-needed funding to fund such expensive ventures, scientists in Uganda simply look out for the active ingredients, mix them and create efficacious drugs and this is why we have seen the birth of Covidex and Covilyce.
Therefore, NDA should create a swift mechanism that enables it to efficiently and effectively detect and examine herbal medicines before they are made available to the general public. The FDA in USA has been swift in approving Covid-19 vaccines, such as Pfzier and Moderna, and am certain that the NDA can equally do the same if not, better.
Secondly, NDA should re-build trust with the drug manufacturers through increased engagement and sensitization on the benefits of voluntary disclosure of the active ingredients, plants and specific plant parts used to manufacture these two herbal medicines and this should be done in total compliance with intellectual property related laws and trade secrets.
Finally, NDA should ensure that her operations and conduct are premised on good faith and are founded on a strong legal framework that ensures total transparency, compliance and consistency with the Law.
This will go in a long way in ensuring that NDA remains publically relevant towards the development of medicines used in the treatment and management of Covid-19.
The writer is a lawyer specializing in public health and good governance