Allegations by the Ghana Federation for Traditional Medicine Practitioners (GHAFTRAM), accusing the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) of misleading the public on the use of the herbal Criptolepis sanguinolenta, locally known as Nibima for the cure of COVID-19 is worrying and should be considered as false by those who closely followed recent media attacks and accusations on the FDA by the Federation, concerning the use of Nibima for COVID-19 clinical trial.
The FDA in a press statement on February 1, 2021, mentioned that it has approved Criptolepis sanguinolenta (Nibima) for clinical trials for a possible COVID-19 treatment. Indeed, a related press statement from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology COVID-19 Clinical Team, attested that the herbal medicine in question was not for treatment in its finality but for a phase II clinical trial on COVID-19 patients.
However, a publication in the Informer Newspaper on Friday, February 5, 2021 with the headline, ‘Confusion lingers over Nibima medicine …as Traditional Herbalists expose FDA…’ accused the FDA of misleading and creating misunderstanding within the public, regarding the endorsement of the herbal medicine as a cure for the virus.
Indeed, no part of the FDA release mentioned that Nibima can cure the dreaded COVID-19. The statement in part said, “In the search for the treatment for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, researchers from the School of Public Health at the KNUST submitted a clinical trial application in September 2020 to assess the safety and efficacy of Cryptolepis Sanguinolenta as a potential treatment for COVID-19”.
Conversely, it is unfortunate that the said newspaper alleged that the FDA deceived the public by endorsing Nibima as cure for COVID-19. The second paragraph of the Informer story reads, “The KNUST statement was to clarify the misunderstanding by the general public regarding Nibima as a cure to the virus, which was fueled by the FDA”. The paper, however failed to appreciate that both the KNUST and the FDA were communicating same procedure and messages in their separate statements.
The newspaper gave an impression that the FDA by its release, attested to the efficacy of Nibima for the final treatment of COVID-19, which is false, and does not correspond to the Authority’s position in the statement. The statement was emphatic on ‘possible clinical benefits’ on the basis of initial findings which corresponds with what KNUST said in their statement.
Suspicions and allegations of favoritism to the detriment of GHAFTRAM and herbalists in the same Informer story is also out of place. GHAFTRAM’s Secretary, Nana Kwadwo Obiri, was quoted as saying that, the association submitted 33 different herbal products to the FDA and the Ministry of Health to be approved for COVID-19 treatment.
GHAFTRAM, he said, was later surprised that the FDA had gone ahead to approve another herbal medicine without the association’s knowledge. The question here is, ‘must the FDA notify or engage the herbal medicine association before considering and approving clinical trials of that nature?
Indeed, reliable information indicates that the 33 herbal medicines were submitted to the Minister of Health, who later presented it to the Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR), Mampong, for further studies to be done before approval. Those 33 medicines were not presented to the FDA as the Informer story claimed.
Is GHAFTRAM aware that the 33 herbal medicines would have to go through testing at CPMR? If no, then obviously, the Federation does not acknowledge the role of CPMR in such matters. If yes, then such grievances must be channeled to CPMR for answers and not the FDA. Moreover, 33 products will definitely take a long time to go through testing and for the best due diligence. We must not lose sight of the fact that even the Nibima herbal product, was submitted in September 2020 and it was not until February 1, that it met all the necessary requirements to commence clinical trials. This is just one product, taking almost six months for answers to be provided. How much more 33 products?
Ghana’s robust herbal medicine industry
It is significant to note that the FDA, through regulations, has made Ghana’s herbal medicine industry an envy to many countries on the African continent. In testament to this position, my findings revealed that other countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya have come to Ghana through the FDA to study our industry. It is therefore imperative for us as a country to uphold these legacies and build on them. The impression created by GHAFTRAM in the said articles denote that the FDA was against the indigenous herbal industry.
The Secretary of GHAFTRAM, Nana Kwadwo Obiri, who was a board member of the FDA, per the claims of his Federation, has exhibited some amount of bad faith through assertions in the articles, with full intent to settle matters in the public domain.
Nana Kwadwo Obiri should not have projected his stands as having the interest of GHAFTRAM more than the FDA and vice versa, since he represents both entities.
At best, such allegations and claims, even if they were found to be true, could have been settled indoor without necessarily engaging in public accusations.
As the FDA is more focused in playing its regulatory roles to navigate the country through this pandemic, key stakeholders including GHAFTRAM, can only collaborate and contribute to the national effort to collectively fight the virus.
By Wisdom Jonny-Nuekpe