WHO sceptical as coronavirus ‘cure’ distributed in Africa

Untested herbal ‘Covid Organics’ drink promoted by Madagascar’s president

Residents in Antanarivo, Madagascar, are given bottles of an untested herbal mixture said to prevent and cure Covid-19. Photograph: Alexander Joe

Residents in Antanarivo, Madagascar, are given bottles of an untested herbal mixture said to prevent and cure Covid-19. Photograph: Alexander Joe


Madagascar’s “cure” for coronavirus is now being distributed across Africa, despite the World Health Organisation repeatedly saying there is no proof the herbal concoction works and calling for it to be subjected to proper clinical trials.

The orange mixture was launched by the president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, under the name “Covid Organics”. Speaking at a press conference on April 20th, where he downed a bottle of the herbal mixture in front of media, Mr Rajoelina said the concoction cured Covid-19 in seven days.

The touted “cure” is largely made from the plant artemisia annua, which is used in the treatment of malaria. It had been tested on fewer than 20 people at the time of its launch by the president.

Mr Rajoelina – a former businessman and advertising executive – has since tweeted encouraging Malagasy farmers to focus on growing artemisia, saying one tonne is worth $3,000 (€2,775), compared to $350 for a tonne of rice.

‘Alternative medicine’

Madagascar has nearly 200 confirmed cases of Covid-19. There are now more than 63,000 recorded cases across Africa, where the disease has been relatively slow to take hold and spread.

African countries including Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, the Republic of Congo, Senegal, Central African Republic, Chad and Tanzania, have said they plan to import or have accepted donations of “Covid Organics” from Madagascar.

In a statement on May 4th, the World Health Organisation said it recognised “traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations”.

‘Efficacy and safety’

However, “Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical,” the organisation said.

In a press conference a few days later, Matshidiso Moeti, a Botswana physician and the WHO regional director for Africa, said she was ready to assist Madagascar with proper testing.

“We are concerned that touting this product as a preventative measure might make people feel safe not to do these other things,” Ms Moeti added, referring to guidelines around social distancing and other methods to stop the disease spreading.

African academics, including herbal medicine practitioners who spoke to The Irish Times, all expressed hope that Ms Moeti’s offer would be accepted.

“Even at home you can devise your own concoction and maybe it can help, but for it to be accepted internationally, out of your home, it has to be tested,” said Dr Nazarius Mbona Tumwesigye, an associate professor of epidemiology at Makerere University in Kampala.