The Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, has stated that South Africa has received a call from the government of Madagascar to help with the scientific research of a herbal cure for COVID-19.
Mkhize said that while South African scientists would be able to help with the research, they will only get involved with the scientific analysis of the herb.
“We are not at that point yet,” Mkhize said.
Mkhize’s comments were made in the context of a deluge of comments and questions on social media regarding Madagascar’s alleged cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, formally launched a herbal remedy in April which he claimed prevents and cures COVID-19.
Rajoelina claimed that the tonic gives results in seven days.
Reportedly derived from Artemisia annua, the remedy was developed into a tonic by the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research. It has been dubbed “COVID-Organics”
Artemisia annua as malaria treatment
AFP reported that the artemisia plant has proven effective in treating malaria. However, it should be noted that malaria is caused by a mosquito-borne parasite, while COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus.
In 2012, the World Health Organization issued a statement in which it recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum.
“ACTs recommended by WHO combine an artemisinin derivative such as artemether, artesunate, or dihydroartemisinin with an effective antimalarial medicine,” the WHO stated.
One of the combinations it recommended was the dry leaves of the artemisia plant for the treatment and prevention of malaria.
“However, WHO does not recommend the use of Artemisia annua plant material, in any form, including tea, for the treatment or the prevention of malaria.”
Other malaria drugs investigated as treatments for COVID-19
Artemisia is not the only malaria treatment that has received support from a state president. US President Donald Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Testing of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 is underway.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine is effective as a treatment for COVID-19.
Several African nations importing Madagascar’s COVID tonic
Despite the fact that COVID-Organics has not undergone rigorous clinical trials, several African nations have already placed orders for the tonic.
Al Jazeera reported that Tanzania, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau have either placed orders or received their shipments already.
Guinea-Bissau has reportedly received a donation of the tonic from Madagascar, while the president of Tanzania has said that he has dispatched a plane to collect a consignment of COVID-Organics.
Artemisia annua is unproven
Africa Check has noted that Madagascar’s own National Academy of Medicine warned that there is currently no scientific evidence to back up the claim that Artemisia annua is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
The organisation discouraged government officials from distributing the tonic and said that it risks damaging the health of the population, in particular that of children.
“According to the law, only health professionals within health facilities are authorised to distribute medicines, and not administrative structures. We appeal to the sense of responsibility of the competent authorities and of the parents of pupils,” the National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar stated.
The Telegraph reported that school pupils in Madagascar were told that they faced expulsion if they refused to take COVID-Organics.
More recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a statement in which it said that it supports scientifically proven traditional medicine.
However, it cautioned against the use of unproven treatments like Madagascar’s Artemisia-derived COVID-Organics tonic.
“Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for COVID-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects,” the WHO said.
“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.”
Headline image by Kristian Peters.