Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) warning against using untested Madagascar’s Covid-19 cure, there is increased demand for the tonic from African countries,
Last month, Madagascan President, Mr Andry Rajoelina, launched the tonic at a news conference where he even drank from a sleekly-branded bottle filled with an amber liquid which he said had already cured two people.
The tonic, based on the plant Artemisia annua which has anti-malarial properties, has not undergone any internationally recognised scientific testing. While Rajoelina extolled its virtues, the WHO cautioned it needs to be tested for efficacy and side effects.
Despite WHO’s warning, so far, seven African countries have rushed for the remedy.
On Friday, a Tanzanian delegation arrived in Madagascar to collect their consignment.
Madagascar has been giving away thousands of bottles of “COVID-19 Organics”, developed by the state-run Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA).
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 told Reuters on Wednesday that Madagascar would now begin selling the remedy, which domestically can be bought for around 40 U.S. cents per bottle.
“This remedy can be put on the market,” Marie Michelle Sahondrarimalala, director of Legal Studies at the Presidency, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “Madagascar has already received orders from state authorities in other countries, but also from private individuals.”
Heads of other African countries said they were placing orders.
In addition to the COVID Organics (CVO), already marketed in the form of herbal tea, a new injectable solution of the same product is under clinical trials in Madagascar, according to the country’s president.
Mr Rajoelina said his government was already collaborating with foreign doctors and researchers on the matter, looking at alternative research possibilities but still on the trail of the Artemisia plant.
“A pharmaceutical factory will be set up within a month to increase the production capacity of COVID Organics. It will be administered in other forms such as injections,” Mr Rajoelina said on Twitter.
He encouraged farmers in Madagascar to grow Artemisia plant on a large scale.
“I encourage Malagasy farmers to cultivate Artemisia in order to increase our production capacity amounting to 3,000 tons per year. The value in tonnes of Artemisia is $3,000 vs $350 for rice,” Rajoelina said.
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 concerned people who drank the product might feel they were immune to COVID-19 and engage in risky behaviour.
“We are concerned that touting this product as a preventive measure might then make people feel safe,” she said.
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 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 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.”
By Thursday, Madagascar had a total 225 confirmed coronavirus cases, 98 recoveries, and no deaths.
The African Union (AU) said on Monday that it was trying to get Madagascar’s technical data on the remedy, and would pass that to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for evaluation.
“This review will be based on global technical and ethical norms to garner the necessary scientific evidence,” the AU said.