How Local Remedies Fuel Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy In Cameroon

By Leocadia Bongben

Not without our herbs’, has been the protective shield some Cameroonians and Africans wear to stay off vaccines.

Flash back to May 2020, two months after Cameroon declared its first case of Covid-19 on March 6, Achille Kohler Chountsa Fongang, Journalist in his 50s, lost appetite and sense of taste.

The result of a scan test by Dr. Euloge Yiagnigni Mfopou showed Chountsa tested positive of Covid-19.

“A table was placed in front of the door to my room, food kept there.  For the first time in my life, I was deprived of my liberty”, he narrated his Covid-19 experience.

“I was given CoroCur, after three days, the symptoms disappeared and I had appetite anew but had to remain quarantined for ten days”, he added.  

Chountsa was one of the early Covid-19 patients on whom the researcher tested his herbal remedy CoroCur, taken with anti-biotics.

“When I got well, I shared my story on Facebook, my phone rang continuously, I oriented many to the doctor and they came back thanking me”.

“I have not taken a jab and have no intention of taking. I think it is good to have confidence in our researchers, and if we are sick the remedy is available”, Chountsa said.

Achille Kohler Chountsa Fongang

Personally, the vaccine doesn’t convince me. It took 10-15 years of research to produce most vaccines, so I am surprised how the Covid-19 vaccines were gotten so fast, he voiced his doubts.

“We have seen many who took the required doses of vaccines, and died again of Covid-19 because they didn’t understand that the symptoms they get are real until they got worse”, he added.

Chountsa is not alone in trusting local remedies.

Francis Nguefack, 48, father of four, sitting on a bench, watching Basketball, confidently says, “I will prefer to take Archbishop Samuel Kleda’s remedy, (Adask Covid and Elixir Covid), if I am tested positive of Covid-19”.

“I cannot go for vaccination and this is final”, the public official, Nguefack adds.

The rush for herbal cure

In April 2020, Archbishop Samuel Kleda, of the Douala Metropolitan Diocese announced he had found a herbal remedy for the treatment of Covid-19. The Bishop is known for treating patients with herbal remedies for over 30 years.

Kleda’s announcement came at the same time Madagascar and their President, Andry Rajoelina was publicly distributing their unproven local remedy for the treatment of Coronavirus.

Other African countries have been falling back on their local pharmacopeia.

The World Health Organization, WHO warned that the remedies had to go through screening, cautioned over misinformation around the remedies that could give people a false sense of security.

However, WHO “Welcomed innovations around the world including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for COVID-19”.

The African Centre for Disease Prevention on its part cautioned on the need for efficiency and efficacy.

“It is important to evaluate both the safety and efficacy of these indigenous botanical assets in medicine prior to endorsing their use by the medical community and the public”, CDC stated.

President Biya’s in a message urged officials to look for a local solutions to Covid-19 treatment, then, the health ministry involved traditional doctors, testing their claims.

Authorities approved seven herbal remedies

Cameroon Ministry of Health, Manoauda Malachie on July 8 in a release said after due process, the medical council authorized five remedies as adjutants.

These are CoroCur, Adask Covid, Elixir Covid, Palubek’s and Soudicov, a kit of : Ngul Be Tara, Netko, Binther et Immunoboost and a kit of Pack Viro Green Force 4.

Ngul Be Tara, one of the seven authorized remedies

“The remedies were to be used in association with the standard protocol for the treatment of Covid-19”, Dr. Salihou Sadou, director of pharmacy at the ministry of health stated.

Sadou says the remedies fall in category 2, and are not the conventional medicine.

There are different categories of remedies, and category 2 are products that have undergone phytochemical test, to identify the different herbs used and toxicology to ensure that the plant is not toxic.

Sadou explains the remedies fall under what is called long usage, in a community, to show the efficacy.

In a conventional drug efficacy is proven by clinical effects where mechanism of action is seen, how the product reacts in a particular domain, how it is transformed and extracted.

To arrive at the third category, there is need for clinical trials. “We encouraged the herbalist to adhere to clinical trials, to get to the third category of a conventional drugs. There is a disposition for the clinical trial at the ministry of health ethical committee.

Director of Pharmacy at the Ministry Of Health, Dr, Salihou Sadou

“The remedies cannot replace vaccination, and nothing guarantees protection against Covid-19 like the vaccines, the remedies are used when the person is already tested positive” he stressed.

What we are telling the population is to get the jab, he emphasized.

Statistics of people these promoters claim to have treat of Covid-19 cannot be very viable, because to follow-up a patient is complicated. The patient goes from from one product to the other and my be treated by one in many, Sadou argued.

We also know that there is need to encourage traditional medicine, many people go for traditional remedies and have much confidence in them but they cannot replace vaccines, he attested.

One of the approved drugs is CoroCur which the owner Dr. Euloge Yiagnigni Mfopou , Cardiologist, says is a native treatment made from local herbs.

“Corocur has been identified as anti-viral immuno-modulator and anti -oxidants. These properties help to kill the virus”, Mfopou says.

“Going by him, “It is the first time a medical doctor conducts research whose results are accepted by the community”.

He explains that the authorisation as ‘adjuvant treatment’ means the remedy has to be associated with the conventional treatment- composed of anti-biotics, Zinc, Vitamin C and Epherallgan to lower the fever.

To him, the conventional treatment is not anti-viral but it helps the body to block other pathogenic agents which can emerge when immunity decreases.

“When a person is tested positive of Covid-19, there is decreased immunity and this state can lead to increased multiplication of other bacteria”, Mfopou explains.

He claims that 3000 people were cured with CoroCur from the research stage which took about a year to the approval stage.

Presently 4000 bottles of CoroCur have been produced, and are in pharmacies and clinics for the next three years according to health authority’ s prescription.

Cameroonians are also taking other remedies and go for fever grass, ginger and other herbs just to help their system.

As to how the local remedies are fuelling hesitancy, Dr Euloge said:

“Many people come asking to take CoroCur saying they prefer it to vaccines, but as a medical doctor, I tell them prevention is better than cure. They should take the vaccine first”, he emphasizes.

He adds, “CoroCur is for those who are sick or have come in contact with sick people”.

The doctor advises, “If you have been in contact with a positive person, before you go for test, start taking CoroCur and it wash out the virus”.

To him, the impact of the information from European countries following the effects of the vaccines was one of the numerous reasons for vaccine hesitancy at the beginning.

Other reasons for vaccination hesitancy

Vaccination hesitancy generally has been a huge issue in Africa. Many countries in Africa do not have sufficient vaccines as suggested in a World Bank article on what is driving hesitancy in sub-Saharan Africa”.

“The slow vaccine rollout on the continent is  due to supply constraints, structural issues, and logistical barriers”, Prata Menezes et al suggest.

But hesitancy in Cameroon goes beyond lack of vaccines. Cameroon got a total of 1,052,650 doses of vaccines. As of October 5, 388,511 persons had taken a dose of the vaccines with only 133,531 completely vaccinated according to Expanded Immunization Programme, EPI.

Hesitancy is depicted with the 4880 doses of AstraZenca that got expired in Cameroon.

“4880 doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine that expired on 23 August 2021 have been withdrawn from the Covid-19 vaccine stock. This gives a loss rate of 1.2% for expired closed vials”, EPI  revealed in a release.

Besides herbal remedies fueling hesitancy, other reasons have been advanced for their contribution to hesitancy.

In Cameroon the fact that there is little or no information on the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines seems to be a huge driver of hesitancy. Fake news, religion, culture and geographical barriers are other reasons for not taking a jab.

“This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab”