Exploring African Herbal Remedies to fight COVID-19

A bottle of Covid-Organics on a table in Antananarivo on April 23. /Getty Images.

Many Africans rely on herbal remedies to cure illnesses – either as a result of traditional beliefs or purely because of ease of access. In fact, statistics suggest that 87% of the African population use some form of herbal medication, often in conjunction with western pharmaceutical medications.

It should come as no surprise then, that during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, where a cure still has not been found for the disease that has overtaken the entire world, the continent has looked to its own traditional medicinal knowledge for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. 

One of the forerunners in the exploration of the use of herbal medication to combat COVID-19 is the country of Madagascar, which is promoting a herbal remedy (brand name COVID-Organics) made from Artemisia (known as Wilde Als in Afrikaans, Mhlonyane in isiZulu, Lengana in seSotho and Sweet Wormwood in English) a group of plants with used for generations to treat everything from gout to inflammation to malaria.

Madagascar, an island with a population of 26 million, thus far has 586 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2 deaths and 147 recoveries. While the commercial version of the herbal remedy allegedly cures patients within 10 days, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned governments against touting methods that are not scientifically proven, while also stating that it supports African countries exploring the role of herbal remedies in combatting or controlling the virus. 

In a recent statement WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti stated that rigorous tests need to be conducted to confirm claims of this herbal medicine\’s ability to treat COVID-19, so as to celebrate a cure discovered in Africa, based on concrete evidence. This position has been echoed by the National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar (Anamem) which stated that the effectiveness of COVID-Organics to treat and prevent COVID-19, still needs scientific testing.

The complicated process of scientifically proving a remedy’s efficacy might delay implementation of the remedy as a certified treatment. WHO has expressed that in clinical trials of this nature, scientists and other interest parties embarking on this trial would need to have transparent MOUs to guide the clinical process. Furthermore, the trials need to prove that no parasites and no modern medication already exist with the qualities of the proposed cure. 

WHO further asserted that if countries wish to use herbal remedies, they need to formulate a national budget, invest in clinical trials to confirm the efficacy of such herbal remedies. WHO further stated that suggests that \”Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people of the rest of the world\”.

While the WHO and other healthcare experts scrutinise the claims of COVID-Organics, the President of Madagascar, the 63rd poorest country in the world, believes that WHO’s reluctance to accept the COVID-Organics herbal remedy as a possible treatment for COVID-19 \”is that it is a drink from Africa and [they] can\’t admit that a country like Madagascar has come up with this formula to save the world\”. 

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