Andry Rajoelina, the president of Madagascar, an island off the coast of Southern Africa, has made claims that his country has discovered a cure for COVID-19. The cure, he says, is a herbal drink invented by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research. But is the drink really effective against COVID-19?
Despite the president’s assurances on the remedy, medical professionals and healthcare organisations remain wary as the drink has yet to be tested in clinical trials. To this end, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is willing to collaborate with the government of Madagascar to test the drink through clinical trials.
"We would caution and advise countries against adopting a product that has not been through clinical tests for safety and efficacy,” says Matshidoso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa region director. “We are concerned that touting this product as a preventative measure might make people feel safe to do other things (against medical recommendations, such as neglecting social distancing).”
The drink, called ‘Covid-Organics’, is primarily based on artemisia, a plant indigenous to China and brought to Madagascar in the 1970’s. Similar to chloroquine, the drug recommended by President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, the plan’s active compound, artemisinin, is a known antimalarial treatment.
The WHO has previously cautioned the usage of artemisinin as a preventative measure. Although previously effective in curbing malaria cases, an increasing number of people around the world have become resistant or partially resistant to the compound due to overconsumption of the drug and poor treatment practices.
“There is absolutely no evidence that it has cured anything,” says Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “The majority of people who have this virus show no symptoms. Of those who develop symptoms, 85% of them have mild illness. You could treat them with water and it would have the same effect.”