Ghanaians Look to Herbal Remedies for COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Ghanaians have traveled to a plant research center outside the capital, Accra, to give scientists and researchers herbal products and plants they think will help cure the coronavirus — or at least alleviate symptoms.

About 70% of Ghanaians depend on herbal remedies for their health care. Last year, government hospitals began integrating the practitioners and training them to incorporate scientific methods into their work. The Center for Plant Medicine Research grew out of a visit by a Ghanaian doctor to China in the 1960s to learn from Chinese herbal medicine.

The center’s acting executive director, Kofi Bobi Barimah, dreams of finding a cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that came from China. And he’s not the only one.

Some people come to the center located in a lush, mountainous area in Ghana’s Eastern Region claiming they have a cure for the virus revealed to them in a dream.

“What we have told them is that it is good that it has been revealed to you,” said Barimah. “But at the Center for Plant Medicine Research, what we do is that we do research to look at the safety of it and then also to make sure it is something that can be consumed by the public. And we also make sure that it is something that is plant-based.”

Alfred Ampomah Appiah, Deputy Chief Executive at the Center for Plant Medicine Research, says the center is researching plant-based remedies for COVID-19, in Ghana, May 27, 2020. (Stacey Knott/VOA)

In the labs of the center, researchers have been testing local herbal products to see what might help in Ghana’s fight against COVID-19.

So far, they have recommended herbal products to boost immunity. But the center is also testing and planning trials of herbal medicines against the virus, scientist Alfred Ampomah Appiah said.

“Herbs have what we call phytonutrients or phytoconstituents, and when we use these herbs, they have a broad activity that might contribute to health a lot.”

Ghanaians’ belief in traditional, plant-based medicine is widespread.

The center grows medicinal plants to help with a range of diseases and conditions, including malaria, typhoid and high blood pressure, Michael Ofori, a technologist at the center, says.

“Our forefathers were using these herbs long before we were born, but they didn’t have the scientific means to research and know the actual dosage of the plants,” Ofori said. “Now, we are being privileged to have that technology at hand, so then we have to attach that technology to the herbal aspects so they can be very safe for us to consume.”

The Center for Plant Medicine Research in Ghana has both a clinic and a pharmacy, where people can purchase plant-based medicines, May 27, 2020. (Stacey Knott/VOA)
The Center for Plant Medicine Research in Ghana has both a clinic and a pharmacy, where people can purchase plant-based medicines, May 27, 2020. (Stacey Knott/VOA)

In a town close to the center, trader Abena Oye said she relies on herbal remedies and hopes Ghana will find a traditional cure for COVID-19.

She said we will be happy because the illness is something that is worrying us. All our finances are messed up. The whole world is a mess, she said. So, if the medicine comes, she said, we will be very happy, and we will take it, and it will help us, and Ghana will be held in high esteem.

That is also the ultimate goal of Ghana’s Center for Plant Medicine Research. But any treatment, they say, must rely on scientific evidence, not just dreams.