KAMPALA — The World Health Organization Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 Response (REACT) made a 12-day visit to Uganda, from 28th of February to the 11th of March, to introduce its work to the country, undertake a rapid appraisal of the available capacities in the country and develop a plan to provide technical support to raise national capacity.
The team visited several sites in Uganda to assess and learn about the capacities of the various stakeholders and institutions in the development of traditional therapies for COVID-19. The sites included the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministry of Health, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Gulu University, Uganda Virus Research Institute, Makerere University Lung Institute, Busitema University, DEI Pharma, National Chemotherapeutics Research Institute, Rukararwe Traditional Medicines Conservation Site, Bushenyi, Uganda National Council of Science & Technology, National Drug Authority and Traditional and Modern Health Practitioners Together Against AIDS (THETA).
The mission noted the presence of a clear roadmap for the promotion and development of traditional medicine by the political leadership of Uganda; the legal framework in the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act 2019; the presence of the National Drug Authority (NDA) that provides the necessary regulatory functions; and the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology as crucial in making progress in the development of therapeutics using traditional medicine.
Through its traditional medicine strategy (2014-2023), WHO’s role is to: Support member states to harness the potential contribution of Traditional Medicine to health, wellness, people-centred health care and Universal Health Coverage; Strengthen quality assurance, safety, proper use and effectiveness of Traditional Medicine by regulating products, practices and practitioners; and to promote Universal Health Coverage by integrating Traditional Medicine services into health care service delivery and self-health care.
At the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the team noted and appreciated the well-equipped laboratories and well-trained staff with the capacity to conduct relevant research to support COVID-19 treatment, engage in vaccine development and the willingness to engage in traditional medicine based therapeutic agents for-COVID-19.
They, however, noted a few gaps and committed WHO’s support towards mitigating them. The gaps include the absence of a national legislative framework for the protection of intellectual property rights and traditional medical knowledge, minimal capacity to conduct clinical observational studies in collaboration with conventional health practitioners and the need to integrate traditional medicine into the curricula of health science students at the university level.
The mission observed the importance of government in streamlining the process of market authorization of traditional based medical products to protect the public from unauthentic and scrupulous claims and to discourage the distribution of traditional medicine-based therapeutics that have not received authorization from NDA for public use, develop code of ethics and conduct for researchers and enhance public-private partnership to advance research, development, and local manufacturing of traditional medicines in the country.
The mission did not approve any product for the treatment of COVID-19, as this is not its responsibility. That responsibility lies with the national government through the medicines’ regulatory authority, in this case, the National Drug Authority. The team also visited the DEI BioPharma site where construction of a factory is underway. The team did not visit any manufacturing facility nor assess the production of any drug.
The WHO-REACT recommended the WHO to:
- Support the Government to strengthen the capacity of in-country researchers to conduct pre-clinical and clinical trials of traditional medicine-based therapeutics.
- Support the Government to enhance the capacity of the National Drug Authority in fulfilment of its regulatory functions and the UNCST and other ethical review committees to step up post-approval monitoring.
- Support the development of a national legislative framework for the protection of intellectual property rights and traditional medical knowledge.
- Support the Government to strengthen the capacities of Traditional Health Practitioners and scientists to conduct clinical observational studies.
- Support the Government to develop a code of ethics and conduct for researchers working on traditional medicine
- Support the development of herbal pharmacopoeia for the Eastern and Southern Africa subregion.