Could a herbal Covid cure could be on the cards for Ugandans?

10 August 2021,  Africa No Filter

Could traditional medicine be the answer to turning the tide against COVID-19 in Uganda?

The country’s National Drug Authority (NDA) announced that a local herbal medicine had been approved for use as a supporting treatment for viral infections, including COVID-19.

Covidex is made from a combination of herbs containing antiviral properties that local communities in Uganda have traditionally used to treat viral infections such as measles and certain coughs. It was developed by scientists at the Mbarara University of Science.

The announcement turned “Drugs” into the most searched item on Google in Uganda, but it wasn’t just curiosity that led the search. Covid infections surged in the country in June, leading to a 42-day lockdown. The approval of a herbal remedy is a significant development in Africa’s outlook on COVID-19.

Herbal and more traditional remedies have been part of the conversations about the virus from its onset around the continent, including Madagascar and Tanzania, where governments encouraged their use. Herbs are also used in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, $880,000 was committed to fund research through indigenous science projects. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said in May 2020 that it was open to traditional treatments - as long as they are clinically tested and proven to be effective. Covidex is the first of traditional remedies to be approved as a supplementary treatment, with the NDA saying that it will continue monitoring its safety even after initial surveillance.

In Rwanda, the rising COVID-19 infections saw “movement clearance” leading Google Trends after Kigali and eight other districts went into a 10-day lockdown. Movement within and out of the areas under lockdown could only happen after applying for Movement Clearance on a portal managed by Rwanda’s National Police department. The lockdown has since been extended to 50 administrative areas to keep people at home in places experiencing high infection rates.

Rising infections driven by the Delta variant led to a new curfew being imposed across the country in neighbouring Kenya. But while “curfew” trended on Google searches, it led to an offline gathering when protesters took to the streets to demand an end to restrictions, saying they are often accompanied by police brutality. In an ironic turn of events that proved the demonstrators’ point, police fired live ammunition in the air and used teargas to disperse crowds.

Not all COVID-19 related news ended with restrictions or demonstrations. In Zimbabwe, the ministry of health ordered all civil servants to be vaccinated. The country also received one million vaccines bought from China in July. The delivery was made against the backdrop of the third wave of infections, but unlike previous waves, the current one is accompanied by an increasing number of people coming forward to get vaccinated. Al Jazeera reported that as many as 60,000 people are being vaccinated daily. It’s a far cry from the initial vaccine hesitancy in the country.

Where Zimbabweans were betting on science, in Gambia and Lesotho, people were betting on luck, but it’s not related to health. It’s about changing financial fortunes. “Gambling” led searches in both countries, and they were all related to checking out various online gambling platforms. “Sports betting” was popular with Congo, Chad, and Angola; all searches were about finding online platforms for sports betting.

In Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, all the searches about sports were inspired by the Tokyo Olympics. To our surprise, Tunisians were interested in the general news about the event, not necessarily news about Ahmed Hafnaoui. He won the country’s first and only gold medal at the event when he came first in the 400-meter freestyle swimming event. Moroccans were also interested in general news, while Egyptians searched for content about Team Egypt. In Nigeria, searches related to the Olympics were led by “basketball”. The D’Tigers made their third appearance at the Olympics with a team that featured eight NBA players.

Travel was the inspiration behind the top searches in Seychelles and Mauritius. “Emirates” led searches in Mauritius after Emirates Airlines resumed flights to the island. In Seychelles, “exchange rate” led searches - a sign that should bode well for the country. The economy is reliant on tourism, which fell by 70% in 2020. The island set the ambitious goal of vaccinating most of its population as soon as vaccines became available. By March, 90% of the Seychellois were vaccinated.

Ghana also made a stride that reflects what the country has been experiencing in recent times. As we reported in our June Twitter trends report, Ghanaians protested the rising cost of living, poor governance, and corruption - inspiring #FixTheCountry. President Nana Akufo-Addo took heed and announced that chief justice Kwesi Anin-Yeboah would be probed for allegations against him in a $5 million bribe scandal.

Meanwhile, “protest” was the term most searched in eSwatini, where anti-government protests that started in June are still happening - a nod to the determination shown by citizens despite violent clashes with the police.

Like COVID-19, protest and sports, “jobs” has become a regular feature in our reports, leading searches in eight countries, including the latest countries were employed led searches (South Sudan, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sierra Leone); all of them inspired by vacancies in the United Nations.

In Senegal, Madagascar, Gabon, Cameroon, Algeria, Benin, and Djibouti, “Education” related searches were popular as students looked for exam results and registrations. May the future be as bright as exam season usually promises.

You can read the report here.