Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Madagascar’s self-proclaimed, plant-based “cure” for Coronavirus is on sale, and numerous countries in Africa have already put in orders for purchase, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation that its efficacy is unverified.
A few weeks ago the Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina launched the new remedy at a news conference, drinking from a sleekly-branded bottle filled with an amber liquid which he said had already cured two people.
On Friday, a Tanzanian delegation arrived in Madagascar to collect its delivery.
The tonic, based on the plant Artemisia annua, which contains antimalarial properties, has not undergone any internationally recognised scientific analysis. While Rajoelina celebrated the remedy’s virtues, the WHO cautioned it needs to be tested for efficacy and side effects.
It’s been several days that Madagascar has been giving away thousands of bottles of “Covid-19 Organics”, developed by the state-run Malagasy Institute of Applied Research.
Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau have all already received thousands of doses of Covid-19 Organics free of charge.
A legal adviser in the president’s office declared that the Covid-19 Organics domestically can be bought for only 40 U.S. cents per bottle, making it a cheap and easily buyable plant-based cure.
“This remedy can be put on the market,” Marie Michelle Sahondrarimalala, director of Legal Studies at the Presidency, claimed in an interview on Wednesday.
“Madagascar has already received orders from several other countries, but private individuals too.” Heads of other African countries confirmed they were placing orders.
It is scientifically proven that isolated compounds extracted from Artemisia are effective in malaria drugs, the WHO noted, but the plant itself cannot treat malaria.
WHO Africa head Matshidiso Moeti said she was worried that people who drank the product might feel they were immune to the virus and engage in risky behaviour.
“We are concerned that publicising this product as a preventive measure might cause people to feel safe,” she explained.
Guinea Bissau has received over 16,000 doses which it is distributing to the 14 other West African nations. Liberia’s Deputy Information Minister Eugene Farghon said there was no plan to test the remedy before its distribution.
“It will be used by Liberians and will be used on Liberians,” he said, noting WHO had not tested other popular local remedies. “Madagascar is an African country, and because of that we will proceed as an African nation that will continue to use its African herbs.”
By Thursday, Madagascar authorities confirmed a total of 225 coronavirus cases, 98 recoveries, and no deaths.
The African Union (AU) on Monday declared that it was trying to get Madagascar’s scientific data on the remedy to then pass that to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for assessment. “This evaluation will be based on universal technical and ethical norms to gather the necessary scientific evidence,” the AU said.