Long before the dawn of modern medicine, many civilizations depended upon the use of plants for curing diseases. The earliest evidence of the use of plants as medicine is dated back to the Paleolithic age, approximately 60,000 years ago. Many civilizations such as the Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Indian have been using traditional medicine which consisted of one or a combination of different plant mixtures to cure diseases.
However, since the birth of modern science, more emphasis has been given to testing any medicinal plant before making it in the pharmaceutical companies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had estimated that 80% of Asian and African countries still use herbal medicine for minor cases. Though they may be effective, they are also known to cause adverse effects. This is due to the poor quality or lack of understanding of the usage of the medicine which can be life threatening.
There are many claims of some treatment for a particular disease. If we go by the scientific knowledge accumulated over decades of research, many microorganisms are difficult to be wiped out. This is because of their ability to change their DNA which is known as mutation. The worst case scenario is of the virus. This is due to the fact that viruses reside within the host cells, thereby avoiding detection by the immune system.
How then can viral diseases be treated. It can either be treated with a vaccine or antiviral drugs. In the case of vaccine, a weakened form of the virus or part of the virus is injected into the patient. This causes the immune system to produce antibodies which can fight if the virus truely infects the patient. This is a cheap and effective method which has prevented many viral infections such as polio and mumps. Smallpox is the only viral disease that has been eradicated.
On the other hand, antiviral drugs contain fake DNA components which the virus mistakenly uses during its reproduction. This causes the reproduction process to stop thereby curtailing spread of the virus in the body. However, this is more expensive as the DNA need to be researched and replaced by fake components. One of the effective drugs is ribavirin which combined with interferon, treats Hepatitis C.
Recently, Madagascar has been in the news claiming to have found the cure for Covid-19 in the form of a tonic from an artemisia plant. Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina promoted the benefits of the herbal remedy named Covid-Organics. The president also claimed that the plant can be used to treat other diseases.
“This plant can treat lots of diseases. If we don’t act quick, other researchers will overtake us,” said Rajoelina, as reported by RFI correspondent Laetitia Bezain.
This has led to ordering the “cure” by other African countries such as Tanzania, Senegal and Nigeria. Although many African people have praised the discovery in their own continent, the WHO cautioned use of the herbal medicine without clinical trial.
“We are advising the government of Madagascar to take this product through a clinical trial and we are prepared to collaborate with them,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa said.
This has irked the African community for not having faith in their traditional remedy. But no matter how much they claim, there’s no scientific proof that it can cure Covid-19.
Prof. Olukemi Odukoya, the Director for The African Centre of Excellence for Drug Research at the University of Lagos had said that “It is important to understand that though, medicinal plants are of natural origin, they can be associated with toxicity and adverse effect therefore, irrationally or indiscriminately.”
Although he believes in following the regulations set by the WHO to prevent spreading of the disease, collaboration from different fields should be encouraged.
On the other hand, in early March researchers in China said they had identified two strains of the coronavirus. They found that 70% of the strains are more aggressive than 30% of the strains. Recently, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have identified 14 strains of Covid-19. Scientists claim that mutation is a natural process in viruses but doesn’t necessarily produce more infectious varieties. Another team of researchers at the Arizona State University have been studying the virus as it begins to mutate. They hope that this study can help in the development of antiviral drugs until an effective vaccine is developed.
Although it’s very difficult to know what information is true and what is false, one has to analyse the situation wisely before taking any step. In spite of the stress on modern medicine, the use of plants is also encouraged as long as there’s scientific evidence of it’s safety and effectiveness.