Andry Rajoelina, the island nation’s populist leader, launched ‘Covid-Organics’ last month. The remedy was developed by the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research and contains a cocktail of traditional herbs, including Artemisia, anti-malaria wormwood.
‘Covid-Organics’ was tested on less than 20 patients before it started being shipped out to the population. Some school children who have refused to drink the tea have reportedly been disciplined or expelled.
Madagascar’s National Academy of Medicine was quick to point out that the remedy was untested and potentially dangerous. “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,” it said in a statement last month.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also issued a warning in early May, saying that untested traditional products were dangerous and that the cure could give people a dangerous false sense of security.
Mr Rajoelina has fought back, dubbing the widespread international criticism of his cure as Eurocentric. “If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt?” he said on French TV earlier this month.
His government has launched a major international marketing push. It has now donated or sold crates of Covid-Organics to over 20 African and Caribbean nations, including Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Haiti.
According to Mr Rajoelina, Madagascar is now finalising discussions with the WHO for “large-scale” clinical trials of the tea.
The news follows an announcement from the Malagasy that it was sending soldiers and doctors to Toamasina, the country’s second-largest city, after a significant outbreak of virus there.
Madagascar has a population of 26m people and has officially recorded 586 cases and two deaths of Covid-19. However, the real number of cases could be far higher. According to local media reports, the country has only conducted about 9,000 tests in two months.
At least 55 COVID-19 patients in Madagascar have recovered after being treated with the country’s herbal remedy for the disease.
The number of COVID-19 patients said to have been “cured” with the drug — which is bottled as herbal tea — rose after three recoveries were announced on Saturday.
According to L’Express de Madagascar, the patients were among those that were administered the drug known as COVID-Organics since it was launched in April.
It did not state if there was any supplementary treatment, but reported that “treatment of (COVID-19) patients has been based” on the drug since it was introduced.
“The same day that the CVO herbal tea was launched, two coronavirus patients who consumed it came out cured,” L’Express de Madagascar reported.
“Until yesterday, fifty-five people have been declared cured since the adoption of CVO herbal tea treatment twenty days ago.”
It added that to aid the fight against COVID-19, the drug is being distributed freely in parts of the country.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT MADAGASCAR’S ‘COVID-19 DRUG?’
Launched on April 20, the COVID-Organics was developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA). Its main ingredient is said to be sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), a plant of Asian origin from where the antimalarial drug, artemisinin, came.
Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina said at the launch that the effectiveness of the drug has been proved.
“All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in Madagascar,” Rajoelina had said.
But the herbal remedy has remained a subject of controversy Madagascar’s national medical academy had cast doubt on its efficacy while the World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to warn against the use of any unapproved drug.
Of the 193 COVID-19 cases so far recorded in Madagascar, 101 have recovered while none has died.
School pupils in Madagascar have been told they face expulsion if they refuse to drink a herbal tea their president claims prevents and cures COVID-19.
Andry Rajoelina, Madagascar’s populist leader, this week launched “COVID-organics” amid great fanfare, particularly on the radio and television stations he owns.
Developed from plants found in abundance on the Indian Ocean island, COVID-organics had allowed Madagascar to succeed where all other countries had failed, he said.
Not only would the product stop anyone who drank it from developing the virus, it would heal anyone who had caught it within seven days, the president told reporters. Two people had already been cured, he added.
“We can change the history of the entire world,” Mr Rajoelina said as he drank the first dose of the wonder drug. “Madagascar has been chosen by God.”
The product is being rapidly circulated on the island state. Soldiers in the capital Antananarivo went door-to-door on Thursday doling out sachets of COVID-organics, which can either be bought by the bottle or in powdered form to be mixed with water.
Not everyone has been as enthusiastic. Both the National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar and the World Health Organisation have expressed their concern, noting that there was no evidence to support claims it could cure the virus.
Clinical tests on the drug are understood to have involved just 20 volunteers and to have been conducted over a week.
Some Malagasy have also been sceptical. When schools re-opened on Wednesday after the Easter holidays, pupils were reportedly given the product and told that they had no choice but to drink it.
The parents of a 14-year-old boy in Antananarivo said their son had been told “to take it or leave”. Patrick Raharimanana, a senior opposition figure and former presidential candidate, alleged that some pupils had already been expelled for refusing to take the medicine.
A senior adviser to the president said that younger children would not be required undertake the COVID-organics course without parental consent.
None of the ingredients in the product is believed to be harmful.
It is chiefly derived from sweet wormwood and Ravensara. Sweet wormwood, a species of the artemisia genus that includes tarragon and mugwort, is known to have anti-malarial properties while Ravensara contains essential oils known to have medicinal qualities.
Several other world leaders, including Donald Trump, have advanced the unproven theory that another anti-malarial, hydroxychloroquine, can inoculate against the new coronavirus.
Mr Rajoelina’s television station, Viva, has sought to promote COVID-organics by screening a documentary featuring a Brazilian prophet allegedly predicting in November that a terrible disease would sweep the world but that Madagascar would save it.
Madagascar has recorded just 121 confirmed cases of COVID-19. No deaths have been reported.