Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1420 EAT on Wednesday 4 May 2022.
Covid-19 had such a debilitating impact on the whole world. It crippled economies, shuttered businesses and with it, people’s life dreams. Millions across the world lost lives, leaving families devastated. Most stories from Covid-19 were grim and indeed continue to be.
That is the known story. But amidst this grim, the same cannot be said of the herbal and traditional medicine industry. Celebrated herbalist Dr GRACE NAMBATYA KYEYUNE, the director of National Chemotherapeutias Institute, the organization in charge of testing herbal medicines to prove their claims, says before Covid-19 struck, they were
struggling with lack of funding. Now the situation is different, writes Muhammad Kakembo.
Covid-19 had such a debilitating impact on the whole world. It crippled economies, shuttered businesses and with it, people’s life dreams. Millions across the world lost lives, leaving families devastated. Most stories from Covid-19 were grim and indeed continue to be. That is the known story. But amidst this grim, the same cannot be said of the herbal and traditional medicine industry.
With Covid-19, herbal medicine star shone the brightest. It was catapulted from the fringes of society it was, to become the national sensation, not only for the multitude who resorted to it in order to wade off the respiratory disease, but also by the policymakers. It was time to pay more attention to this sector which is as old as humanity itself. The sector proved to be the proverbial magic bullet necessary to keep Covid-19 at bay without getting into the crowded queue for the scarce Western-produced vaccines.
Dr Grace Nambatya Kyeyune, the director of National Chemotherapeutics Research Institute, the organization in charge of testing herbal medicines to prove their claims, says before Covid-19
struck, they were struggling with lack of funding. Now the situation is different. Speaking at Rotary Club Muyenga, shortly after renowned researcher David Ssenfuka had given a talk about his miraculous cancer and diabetes herbal medicines, Nambatya said after Covid-19 struck, government took another, and this time closer, look at the work they do.
“Traditional medicine had always been neglected until the coming of Covid-19 which awakened us. Our head of state is really passionate about herbal medicine. He moved heaven and earth to see that we get supported. He also assented to the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act which had been a bill for over 15 years,” Nambatya said.
She revealed that with the new government push towards the direction of herbal medicine, they were able to carry out the first-ever clinical trial of Covid-19 medicine. Even for Dr Patrick Ogwang’s Covidex, Nambatya says, as NCRI, they identify with its success because Ogwang himself is part of the institute.
“Now traditional medicine is being looked at as part of the pathogenic economy and it is co-opted under the Science, Technology and Innovation ministry under the Office of the President. I think the president collapsed that ministry and put it under his office because he is really very passionate,” Nambatya said.
As part of the efforts to push through the finish line all prospective herbs, Nambatya added that she was tasked to look for researchers such as Ssenfuka to see that they are helped and to develop their drugs to benefit the wider society. Nambatya also expressed gratitude that qualified medical doctors have started teaming up with herbalists to research and develop their medicines into internationally accepted drugs.
“I’m so happy that people like Dr Moses Mpairwe is teaming up with Ssenfuka to work on his medicine. This is what the World Health Organization (WHO) is demanding. Not long ago, we had an expert committee of WHO on traditional medicine to see the clinical trials we did here. They spent eight days here and when we visited the president, the conclusion was, the researchers
should sit with the owner of the medicine before getting into clinical trials,” Nambatya said.
She revealed that currently the country, through Makerere University, is finalizing the development of a clinical trial template that will guide future trials.
“This template is going to help Uganda to go through clinical trials and the institute concerned will be part of the trial. So, it is not true to say that government doesn’t care. What is lacking is the knowledge of the whole chain,” Nambatya said.
HERBAL MEDICINE WONDERS
Although there are still many people, especially the elite, who have low opinion about herbal medicine, Nambatya says, their data shows that this medicine is doing wonders in combating diseases that had even eluded Western medicine.
“When you come to cancer, we have herbalists coming with therapies for testing at our institute and we are seeing improvement with cancer patients. People take these medicines and when they do biopsy, they find one mutation and another mutation and cancer is gone. There is no way you can do this with chemotherapy, we are seeing it. So, I call upon people with medicines to bring them and we test them because the budget is now there and I sit on those committees that oversee those projects that should be funded. So, the anomaly is knowing where to go,” Nambatya said.
She added that those who don’t like to go to her institute because they don’t like her should know that for now, she is the one in office. There is no way out, you have to come until I retire; but even government still needs me. Please use me, I’m still around. We are privileged as a country to have all this medicine. The clinical trial that happened in Mulago was the first in sub–Saharan Africa. We not only have funding from the president but we also have funding from WHO,” Nambatya said.
She allayed the fear of herbalists who might think their formulas might be stolen. She advised them to patent them with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau and sign nondisclosure agreements. If Rotary is to help in the planting of trees, there is no way it can plant what has not been disclosed. The fear of stealing formulas shouldn’t arise. But also, patenting is on value addition, not the plant; nobody can patent a God-given plant,” Nambatya said.
Her comment followed a question by retired Court of Appeal Justice Remmy Kasule who asked whether Rotary can participate in planting trees that are the source of important medicine.
“The plants which are giving us these herbs from which this medicine comes from, how can we the ordinary people assist in the growing, preserving and keeping them? I think as Rotarians, this is one of the areas where we can come out and contribute in this cause. We in Rotary, what can we do to advance the cause of Mr Ssenfuka? We can use our international relationships
and interactions but we would need guidance on how to utilize our set-up and contacts with other Rotary clubs all-over the world to advance the cause and improvement of our medicine,” Kasule said.
Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, the president of Rotary Club Muyenga, called upon people like Ssenfuka to disclose the knowledge they have such that in the event that they are no longer around, society continues to benefit from it.
“My own grandmother, if you had a bone fracture, she would work on you and your bones get back without even touching you. When she passed on, she passed on with her knowledge. I’m here, I don’t have money yet I would have been a billionaire by now. So, let’s open up this information. I was also [work with] Dr Monica Musenero [minister of Science, Technology and Innovation] and we have what we call a pathogenic economy, come to us, we have a lot of money under the PRESIDE project but we never advertise money; that’s why it has value. It’s you to look for where it is,” Nuwagaba said.
In reacting to Nuwagaba’s suggestion to share his knowledge about medicine, Ssenfuka said this will happen when the medicine has been developed and patented.
“We have been lacking contacts which is a very good resource. We have explained to Rotary where our research is. We all know that the custodian of the medicine is the medical people, but we don’t have money to fund the development of this medicine. In the meantime, it’s me who will continue giving it to the community because it’s only me who knows how it is used. We have got new hope because we know Rotary has been involved in many causes and we are hopeful that if they take up this cause, this medicine will be developed,” Ssenfuka said.
He thanked Dr Nambatya for her effort in mainstreaming herbal medicine and also testifying that indeed his medicine christened SD-2018 was effective when tried on animals. Nambatya had earlier on said that she has known Ssenfuka for some time, having come to her office seeking assistance.
“He is a vibrant young man who came to my office and talked to us about his herbal medicine for diabetes. I trusted my team to do due diligence about what it can do in small animals and it’s true we found that it had some positive impact regarding regeneration of beta cells. If you don’t have beta cells, you may be short on insulin. It took us about 12 months to do the trials and the report was really good and fairly safe,” Nambatya said of Ssenfuka’s medicine.