FOR more than 12 moths, the world has been at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and to date, close to 100 million infections and 2.06 million deaths have been recorded globally. According to experts, the COVID-19 is the most significant public health problem since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic
By Michael Gwarisa
Even though there is no cure yet for the COVID-19, the global recovery rate currently stands at 53.1 million. Majority of the COVID-19 cases have been reported to be accompanied by mild symptoms, hence the impressive recovery rate. Unlike in the first world countries where the COVID-19 has been killing mercilessly, third world and low-income countries on the other hand seem to be having oddly low infection and death rates.
Most low-income countries have poor and weak health systems and the COVID-19 has exerted pressure on their health institutions. In the first world countries where citizens have health insurance and access to health services, it is easy for citizens to afford hospitalization in quality health institutions and they can afford top dollar western medications such as antibiotics and painkillers.
Since the onset of the coronavirus, there have been widespread use of herbs to treat COVID-19 symptoms in Africa, Asia and other parts of the Middle East. To date, there are no effective and safe drugs that can be used to treat COVID-19 disease. Since the first cases were detected in Wuhan late December 2019, several traditional Chinese herbal medicines have been used to treat this infection.
Researchers led by David Lee from Bio-Organic and Natural Research Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont have summarized the experiences with the use of traditional Chinese herbal medicines for the management of COVID-19. Their study titled, “Traditional Chinese herbal medicine at the forefront battle against COVID-19: Clinical experience and scientific basis,” was published in the January 2021 issue of the journal Phytomedicine.
According to this study, over 100 Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicines (TMCs) formulae are available for use in epidemic related infections. At the early stages of the pandemic in Africa, Madagascar touted noise its herbal tonic as an alternative immune booster against COVID-19. In Zimbabwe, majority of people are using Zumbani or Balsamic fever tea to treat fevers, a very prominent symptom of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says they welcomes innovations around the world including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for COVID-19. WHO says they recognize that traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations.
Even though there is proven herbal treatment for COVID-19, there have been various testimonies in Zimbabwe of people who recovered after taking the Zumbani tea, Mufandichimuka and other herbs in conjunction with painkillers and antibiotics. Researches are still being conducted around these herbs to ascertain whether they can be used as alternative medication for SARS like infections.
The greatest lesson from all this is that as human beings, we need biodiversity more than it needs us. Trees, grass, herbs, shrubs and many other types of vegetation can survive without us but we cannot survive without trees. They give us the oxygen we use every second. Without the biodiversity that is now heavily depleted in most parts of the world, there will be limited sources of medications and alternative medicines to save the human race.
In one of our interviews with not the late Sekuru Friday Chishanyu, who was a traditional healer and herbalist, he said, “it is now difficult to find effective herbs locally owing to deforestation and destruction of the environment for commercial and domestic development purposes. We now have to travel long distances to find trees and herbs which used to get locally in our vicinity to treat our patients.”
The world over, thousands of key compounds derived from plants and animals are used daily to make medicines. According to studies 80% of developing countries rely on traditional medicine for their basic health care. Nevertheless, high rates of deforestation are threatening the continued coexistence between men and Flora and Fauna.
According to the World Bank (WB), it is estimated that international trade of medicinal plants is a US$60 billion business. Of the 50,000 known medicinal plants –which are the basis of more than 50% of all medications, up to a fifth are at risk of extinction at the local, national, regional or global level due to deforestation. The planet’s biological diversity is essential not only for the drug industry but also for other industries.
Biodiversity unlike plastic and metal once lost, it can never be recovered. Yearly, governments the world over allocate flimsy budgets to biodiversity preservation and maintenance of forests. In Zimbabwe due to increased tobacco farming and allocation of land for farming and development purposes, the country is losing vast forests.
Advances in biodiversity investment have shown the importance of protecting and safeguarding natural resources for the future. A project that was launched in Peru in 2008 is working to conserve flora and fauna both inside and outside of the country’s 77 nature reserves. Through training, management and public policymaking activities, the project works with experts who have managed to preserve five conservation corridors covering approximately six million hectares, 20 times the size of Peru’s capital, Lima.