COVID Organics fails to stop Covid-19 spike in the country
Madagascar herbal fails to halt Covid-19 spike in the country as hospitals struggle to cope with cases .Madagascar’s herbal drug ‘COVID Organics (COV),’ which the country’s leaders said cures and prevent coronavirus has reportedly failed to halt Covid-19 spike with hospitals are now struggling to cope with a surge of Coronavirus cases.
According to BBC, cases have quadrupled in the past month in the Indian Ocean island, with more than 13,000 infections and 162 deaths from Coronavirus.
Despite the spike, President Andry Rajoelina is still promoting the concoction as a cure for Covid-19 despite the World Health Organization (WHO) warning against using untested remedies.
For the last four months, children are also being offered the Herb (COV)’ at school to boost their health.
Covid-Organics: ALL FACTS ABOUT Madagascar’s magical coronavirus cure
Tanzania, Senegal and Congo have received it, the World Health Organization has warned against it, and South Africa has said it will facilitate its clinical trial. Covid-Organics, or CVO, Madagascar’s tea infusion based on the artemisia plant, which has anti-malarial properties, is in high demand since President Andry Rajoelina “launched” it on April 20. Madagascar, which has had no COVID-19 deaths so far, is promoting CVO as Africa’s answer to the coronavirus.
What is new rage across Africa?Tanzania says it has received its first shipment of Madagascar’s self-proclaimed, plant-based “cure” for coronavirus, despite warnings from the World Health Organization that its efficacy is unproven.
The announcement on May 8 came days after Madagascar said it would begin selling the herbal concoction – known as Covid-Organics – and that several African countries had already put in orders. “Tanzania today received the support of coronavirus medicine from Madagascar,” government spokesman Hassan Abas said on Twitter.
The purported remedy is a drink derived from artemisia – a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment – and other indigenous herbs. Last month, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina launched the remedy at a news conference, drinking from a sleekly-branded bottle filled with an amber liquid which he said had already cured two people.
Madagascar has since been giving away thousands of bottles of the product, developed by the state-run Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, to countries across Africa. Earlier this week, the East African island nation told the Reuters news agency it would begin selling the drink, which domestically can be bought for around 40 US cents per bottle.
Along with Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau have already received thousands of doses of Covid-Organics free of charge. Guinea-Bissau has received more than 16,000 doses which it is distributing to the 14 other African nations.
Liberia’s Deputy Information Minister Eugene Farghon said this week there was no plan to test the remedy before distribution. “It will be used by Liberians and will be used on Liberians,” he said, noting that the WHO had not tested other popular local remedies.”Madagascar is an African country … Therefore we will proceed as an African nation and will continue to use our African herbs.”
Why is the WHO not happy with this trend?
The World Health Organization (WHO) on May 7 called for clinical trials of Madagascar’s Covid Organics, the untested herbal drink that is said to prevent and cure patients suffering from the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.
“We are advising the government of Madagascar to take this product through a clinical trial and we are prepared to collaborate with them,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, told a joint media briefing with the WHO and World Economic Forum. “We would caution and advise countries against adopting a product that has not been through clinical tests for safety and efficacy,” Moeti said.
“We are concerned about the impact that COVID-19 will have on the ability of African countries to progress towards Universal health coverage,” she added. There are over 52,000 confirmed virus cases in the African continent, with more than 17,000 associated recoveries and about 2,000 deaths, according to the WHO.
Isolated compounds extracted from artemisia are effective in malaria drugs, the WHO noted, but the plant itself cannot treat malaria. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also said the drink should be “tested rigorously”. Health specialists are worried that people who drink the product might feel they are immune to COVID-19 and engage in risky behaviour, Moeti added. “We are concerned that touting this product as a preventive measure might then make people feel safe,” she said.
The African Union (AU) on May 5 said it was trying to get Madagascar’s technical data on the remedy, and would pass that to the Africa CDC for evaluation. “This review will be based on global technical and ethical norms to garner the necessary scientific evidence,” the AU said. It seems Madagascar is not shying away from a clinical trial. South Africa’s government will assist the authorities in Madagascar to test and analyse this unproven herbal treatment for COVID-19, according to health minister Zweli Mkhize.
“I actually did get a call from the government of Madagascar, they did ask us, they would like to be assisted in the process of trying to validate, try to help investigate the scientific basis on which such a drug could be used,” Mkhize told journalists this week.
When was this cure ‘launched’?
As COVID-19 spread across Africa and leaders put their countries in lockdown, Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina on April 20 launched an herbal remedy that he claimed could prevent and cure the disease.
The announcement caught medical experts, who have scrambled to find a cure for the disease that has infected about 4 million people globally, by surprise. Rajoelina, a former DJ who in 2009 at the age of 34 became the continent’s youngest national leader, claimed at the launch that the remedy, named Covid-Organics, had already cured two people.
“This herbal tea gives results in seven days,” Rajoelina, now 45, told journalists and diplomats in April. Soldiers have since been going door-to-door in the Indian Ocean island country, which has reported about 250 cases and no fatalities, dispensing the concoction. The demand for this herbal tea is raging throughout the continent. So much that in Guinea-Bissau, President Umaro Sissoco Embalo went to the airport on May 2 to receive a shipment of the beverage donated by the Madagascan leader.
The herbal remedy is produced from artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy against malaria, and other indigenous herbs, according to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA), which developed the beverage. The plant was first imported into the island nation in the 1970s from China to treat malaria. It is now being marketed in bottles as a herbal tea, while Rajoelina has said clinical trials are under way in Madagascar to produce a form that can be injected into the body.
But it’s unclear how Covid-Organics is prepared, and IMRA has not reported any data on its efficacy or side effects. “It is a drug whose scientific evidence has not yet been established, and which risks damaging the health of the population, in particular that of children,” the National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar cautioned in a statement last month.
Despite such warnings, African leaders are keen to obtain the product. Madagascar has also successfully projected it as a ‘Made in Africa’ remedy to the disease the West could not find a cure for.
Where does the touted effect of CVO come from?
Artemisinin has been effective against malaria
It is, in fact, the cornerstone of so-called artemisinin-based combination therapies, which have helped bring down malaria deaths from more than 1 million to about 400,000 every year, says Kevin Marsh of the University of Oxford, who spent decades studying malaria in Kenya. “We totally depend on artemisinin for malaria in every country of the world, so we are very worried about resistance,” Marsh says — especially in Africa, where 90% of the world’s malaria deaths occur.
To prevent resistance taking hold, most artemisinin-based malaria treatments include a second antimalarial drug, so that if the parasite develops resistance to artemisinin, the other drug will still kill it. The WHO strongly discourages countries from using artemisinin to treat malaria on its own as a “monotherapy,” because it could hasten the development of drug resistance. An October 2019 WHO report also recommended against the use of the Artemisia plant to treat or prevent malaria. Yet a flood of Artemisia-based COVID-19 treatments would amount to massive monotherapy use, Marsh says. “It’s a big, big issue,” he says.
Others don’t think the threat is that serious. African pharmacies have long sold artemisinin monotherapies, says Philip Bejon, executive director of the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, which is based in Kilifi, Kenya. And mutations in Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite, that seem to confer resistance to artemisinin in Southeast Asia, “don’t seem to take hold and spread,” in Africa, Bejon says. It’s also not clear how much artemisinin ends up in herbal remedies — hot water can inactivate it. “My guess is that Africa is low risk for artemisinin resistance,” Bejon says.
There are some hints that artemisinin might have an effect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In 2005, Chinese scientists reported that an alcoholic extract from A. annua was able to neutralize its cousin, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, in a petri dish. (The extract was never tested against SARS in animals or humans, however.) Based on that study, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces are now collaborating with ArtemiLife, a U.S. company that grows sweet wormwood, to test plant extracts on SARS-CoV-2 in vitro.
Lead scientist Peter Seeberger says they expect to publish the results “very soon.”
Who would rather trust CVO than a ‘Western’ medicine?
In the race against time to find a cure for COVID-19, Madagascar began very early on a dual therapy protocol based on chloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, in association with treatments derived from traditional knowledge that emphasises the use of medicinal plants.
The embrace of an “African” therapy for Africa for COVID-19 comes amid a climate of deep distrust of Western medical science in parts of African societies. Press stories frequently warn about experimental treatments being tested on hapless Africans; in March, a media storm erupted after French scientists suggested a coronavirus vaccine could be trialed on the continent.
This is neither surprising not new. The dehumanisation of people from the Global South was one of the driving forces behind the slave trade and colonialism. It is inconceivable that anyone could fathom the thought of trading in human beings unless they regarded that person as inferior. Joseph Conrad, in his book Heart of Darkness writing in 1899, grappled with the question of whether the people he had met in Africa were really human. He opines: “No they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it – this suspicion of their not being inhuman.”
Saartjie Baartman, or Sarah Baartman as she is commonly called, was a Khoikhoi woman born in what is present-day South Africa. In 1810, she was abducted and taken to Europe where she was turned into an object of an exhibition for European audiences because of her body and her perceived large buttocks. Many of the audience members came to see her because they thought that she was not human. When she died, a French surgeon dissected her body and concluded that she had ape-like features.
In 2002, the South African government finally managed to retrieve her body from the French National Museum in Paris where her remains had stood in exhibit for more than 150 years. Baartman was dehumanised in life, and fetishised in death, in pursuit of a scientific theory that sought to draw biological and scientific differences between white and black people. So, it is not really surprising that Africans are eager to have their own medicine, rather than serve as test subjects of western treatments and vaccines.
In the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, for instance, more than 250,000 blood samples were collected from patients by laboratories in France, the UK and the US among others – often with no informed consent – as patients underwent testing and treatment for Ebola, to help researchers create new vaccines and medicines. Today, South African, French and American researchers refuse to disclose how many of these samples they still hold, citing “national security” as an excuse.
Now, some African scientists ask why leaders welcome with open arms a locally produced treatment for which no evidence appears to exist. “If Africans are really concerned about being guinea pigs of science, they should be just as concerned about both Western and African science,” says Catherine Kyobutungi, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya.
“It is disingenuous to cry foul and demand the most stringent forms of accountability for one type of science and then bend the rules for another.”
How prevalent is the use of traditional medicine globally?
The World Health Organization defines traditional healing as “the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures”. This, of course, leaves enough scope for all kinds of remedies to be tagged ‘traditional’.
The use of plants for medical treatment and therapy is a practice as old as humanity, dating as far back as the oldest known written documents and found in nearly every known culture. Traditional medicine is rich due to the diversity of human groups, languages, and customs, combined with the diversity of ecological regions, leading to innovative plant use and specialized knowledge.
The WHO estimates that nearly 80 % of the population in developing countries depends mainly on traditional medicine for the treatment of ailments. The dependence on remedies derived from medicinal plants is particularly important in developing countries where modern medicine is often absent or simply too expensive. Economic devaluation of the developing countries leads to higher prices of pharmaceuticals and makes medicinal plants and traditional medicine more attractive. Additionally, some prefer traditional medicine for various reasons including familiarity, culture and perceived safety.
Medicinal plants can be of great importance in the daily lives of those who live near places where they grow, not only for their healing traditions but as a commodity to take to the urban areas where they are not locally found to be sold in the marketplace. Trade of non-timber forest products (NTFP) has been a mainstay for rural economies with a large majority being sourced from wild populations. Rural farmers and residents therefore have a financial interest to not only exploit and develop trade of these natural resources.
Medicinal plant-use in Madagascar spans all socioeconomic levels and the diverse metropolitan population of its capital city, Antananarivo, the fourth largest island in the world, means a wide variety of people use plant products. Medicinal plants sold in the traditional markets are usually collected in the forests around Antananarivo. The traditional plant market, known as raokandro, includes plants for public use with little to no processing (dried, raw material). The plants were sold either singularly or as a mix with other plants for a particular treatment.
The widespread presence of traditional healers is deeply rooted in many parts of the developing world, including Madagascar. Despite delivering results of varying quality, traditional healers are often integral members of their communities and local culture and heritage. They thrive in places where doctors are few and far between – in Madagascar, only 60 percent of the population has geographic access to health facilities, according to NGOs working in the country.
Some traditional healer remedies have been found to be effective. For instance, the World Bank cites a study which indicated that herbal treatments for shingles used by healers in Uganda were effective. The WHO even has a strategy for working with traditional healers whose practices are more accepted. But regulation, safety, effectiveness and evidence-based use are core to the WHO approach.
Indeed, the organisation describes the risks associated with traditional healers as the “use of poor-quality, adulterated or counterfeit products; unqualified practitioners; incorrect or delayed diagnosis; failure to use effective conventional treatments; exposure to misleading or unreliable information and direct adverse events; side-effects or unwanted treatment interactions.” But traditional healers have access to more people, more than NGOs and medical doctors.
In Ambondro village in the remote south of Madagascar, it is said that the man whom people seek out to cure their sickness was trained by a ghost. Sixty-four -year-old Mbola Tohamana is a traditional healer and claims his potions and spells can treat diseases and psychiatric disorders – and – in case you are interested – even make people fall in love