Uganda's herbal Covid-19 drug to retail at Sh363

Covidex

A man received drops of the Covidex herbal medicine in Uganda.

Photo credit: Daily Monitor

What you need to know:

  • Prof Patrick Ogwang, the developer of the product, says the high prices being charged per bottle of the medicine are against his agenda.
  • WHO recently expressed concern about Uganda's approval of the herbal treatment.

Kampala. The manufacturer of Covidex, a local herbal medicine approved by the Ugandan government for use as supporting treatment for viral infections including Covid-19, has set the ceiling price for the drug.

Jena Herbals Limited, a firm owned by Ugandan pharmacologist Prof Patrick Ogwang, announced that it has capped the market price of Covidex at Ush12,000 (about Ksh363), and warned black market dealers against hiking the cost.

The announcement follows grumbling from members of the public that many people could not afford the herbal medicine that was approved by National Drug Authority (NDA) last week, with reports that prices in some places went as high as Ush160,000 (about Ksh4,485) per 20ml bottle.

Addressing journalists in Kampala yesterday, Prof Ogwang, the developer of the product, said the price hike went against his agenda.

“We developed the medicine not to make money but to help people. When we developed Covidex, we anticipated the high demand that one can make a lot of money [from it] and become the richest Ugandan within few months,” Prof Ogwang said.

“But our company’s principle is to help humanity first… The factory price is now at Ush6,000. Wholesalers can add Ush2,000 (about Ksh61) to make it Ush8,000 (about Ksh242). Pharmacies can sell it at about Ush10,000 (about Ksh303) to Ush12,000 (about Ksh363). So that a full dose for an adult is at Ush36,000 (about Ksh1,090),” he said.

But a spot check by Daily Monitor found that each bottle costs between Ush30,000 (about Ksh909) and Ush160,000 (about Ksh4,846). 

“That is greed. Let us not take this as a chance to become rich. Let us help fellow Ugandans who need the medicine,” he said of the hike.

Dr Pamela Achii, the president of Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda (PSU), also asked Ugandans not to hoard Covidex, saying it deprives patients who actually need it of access.

“Many people have gone to buy this product in bulk, but even if it is herbal medicine, buying in bulk is an abuse. Some people are buying and taking the product to supermarkets; supermarkets are not the (authorised) places to sell this medicine,” she said.

Traditional medicine

While Ugandans scramble to get their hands on the drug amidst a Covid-19 crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently expressed concern about Uganda's approval of the herbal treatment.

The WHO said it had consulted researchers from nine African countries, including Uganda, on the use of traditional medicine to treat coronavirus infections. However, it noted, Covidex was not among the drugs that were evaluated. 

Uganda’s drug authority, however, had reassured members of the public Jena Herbals Limited had published safety studies before it approved the drug. 

"After engagement, the innovators have removed unsubstantiated claims that the product treats and prevents Covid-19 and revised it to supportive treatment in management of viral infections. NDA has granted Covidex an approval based on initial assessment, published literature and safety studies conducted by the innovator," NDA executive director David Nahamya said last week.

Covid-19 crisis

President Yoweri Museveni put the country on lockdown on June 18 in the face of an unprecedented increase in Covid-19 infections and deaths. When announcing the strict changes, he pegged the infection rate at 17 per cent.

Ugandan scientists have warned that the delta Covid-19 variant is rapidly spreading and driving hospitalisations in the country. 

“Most of the critically-ill Covid-19 patients are infected with the delta variant. It is predominant. Delta variant is highly transmissible and it does not respect age,” Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of the government scientific advisory committee on Covid-19, said. 

“We are seeing healthy young people getting infected, there are challenges but they are characteristics of the entire wave,”  Dr Misaki said.

Government scientists say the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the delta variant is low. Uganda has been using this vaccine since the onset of vaccination on March 10.

“With the delta variant, there is a reduced efficacy for AstraZeneca. The data we have shows that there is only about 33.1 per cent protection with one dose. That protection goes up to 51.7 per cent with the second of the vaccine. This is still low,” Dr Misaki added.

Report by Tonny Abet and Nobert Atukunda
 

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