By Collins Wafula
To a pessimist, the COVID-19 pandemic signals the biblical end times, the apocalypse.
To the optimists, this is another episode of pandemics that have punctuated humanity throughout history.
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty lies the opportunity to create a solution and turn fortunes around.
Behold COVIDEX, the Ugandan herbal product invented by Dr. Patrick Ogwang which was recently approved as a treatment for corona virus disease.
It is still however meant to undergo clinical trials to ascertain its efficacy before final NDA approval.
This indigenous product can provide a spring board for Uganda to conquer the lucrative trade in herbal and medicinal plant products.
Like the legendary Chinua Achebe once quipped, ‘If a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings’-Ugandans must first embrace standardization as a tool to penetrate the market.
A 2019 study valued the global herbal medicine market at USD84 billion and projected it to grow annually at 20% to hit a whooping USD411 billion by 2026.
The International Trade Centre has also alluded to an increasing demand for natural medicinal products mainly attributed to an aging global population and consumers’ preference for natural health products.
This is the niche that developing countries can develop for sustainable export trade.
Capturing just 5% of this market would earn Uganda up to USD20 billion in forex, higher than any current export.
Currently, the leading players are USA, China, Egypt and Morocco.
Uganda however holds obvious competitive advantages in terms of wide range of plant species and favorable weather.
It is possible for Ugandan herbal medicine to be regarded in the same level as the Chinese Traditional medicine or even better.
Standards reduce the time gap between technological innovation, diffusion, and application.
For herbal products like COVIDEX, standards guide the processes and practices of manufacturers to produce quality products that can pass the safety and efficacy requirements as per NDA guidelines for clinical trial.
Current standards on herbal medicine have been developed at African level (ARSO) and international level (ISO) to which Uganda is a full member.
In fact, ISO has a Technical Committee dedicated to developing standards on Chinese Traditional medicine.
The areas covered by the current African standards are: Guidelines on good agricultural and collection practices (GACP); Good Manufacturing Practices for herbal medicines; Minimum requirements for registration of traditional medicines; Technical guidelines for safety, efficacy and quality of raw materials and herbal medicines; and Certification scheme for medicinal plant produce among others.
Following these standards will enable the herbal products readily access the African market and possibly conquer the international market.
Well established manufacturers may wish to curve out exclusive market niches by pursing credible ecological and social sustainability certifications.
Regulatory agencies like NDA and UNBS have demonstrated their synergies and capacity to support local innovators harness their full potential.
It is imperative that all relevant Ugandan stakeholders actively engage in the technical committees that formulate standards for herbal medicine and other products/services at national, regional, continental and international level.
Participation can also be by responding to the call for comments on draft standards that are usually circulated through the UNBS website.
Manufacturers should then use these standards to produce products that are acceptable and competitive in the market place.
This in turn spurs business and economic development.
This article was first published on Blog.unbs.go.ug