A man gets his bottle filled with a herbal extract believed to protect from COVID-19, in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Picture: Alexander Joe/AP
A man gets his bottle filled with a herbal extract believed to protect from COVID-19, in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Picture: Alexander Joe/AP

Madagascar's COVID Organics: snake oil or hidden gem?

By Victor Kgomoeswana Time of article published May 2, 2020

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By now Covid-19 has taught all of us that we are mere mortals. We are scared to die and can collaborate across our political, religious and cultural differences to survive. 

Our ordinarily adversarial political parties even put their differences aside to stop the spread of coronavirus. If only we would put the same maturity and focus to work on fighting poverty, illiteracy, corruption and all social ills.

On that score, maybe we should turn our collective attention to a plant out in Madagascar. Not only is the plant intriguing, but how the world is dismissive of it must be challenged. 

The scientific name of the plant is Artemisia. It has many species, for example, A. afra, where A. stands for Artemisia. It is known as “wormwood (English), wilde als(Afrikaans), umhlonyane(isiXhosa and isiZulu) and lengana(Sesotho languages)”, according to www.bioafrica.com. The same website lists “coughs, colds and influenza but also fever, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, malaria fever and intestinal worms” among the ailments this herbaceous plant can treat. 

My neighbour swears by it – his children know it from their every encounter with flu. He is yet to convert me.

Another extract A. annua, is used in anti-malaria drugs. A Chinese pharmaceutical chemist, Tu Youyou, discovered an extract of this plant – artemisinin - in 1972. She highlighted the medicinal effects of a herb that is widely used in Chinese traditional medicine and received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Enter President Andry Rajoelina and his artemisia-based herbal drink developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research and branded COVID Organics.

As we speak, Madagascar has over 132 cases of Covid-19, nearly 60 recoveries and no deaths.

Certainly, something is happening out there; although it is tough to say why and how.

If you asked President Rajoelina, he would credit his herbal drink which contains the same extract for which a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist received a Nobel five years ago. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for Covid-19. The National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar (Anamem) is cautious and warning the government against using Rajoelina’s solution because its effectiveness has not been sufficiently tested.

True, it has not been tested in accordance with the WHO protocols. But then that is the reason to do so quickly; not that the results of such a test would be ready in a matter of days, but at least the international community cannot simply dismiss what has been used to treat respiratory


President Alpha Conde of Guinea has been telling his people to drink hot water. President Trump has been asked if people should not go radical with a shot of disinfectants. Some leaders are still in denial; while talks of a vaccine trial continue. If someone comes up with anything, based on how his people and many others worldwide have been treating many conditions, do not lap it up without questioning; but surely do not shoot them down.

The question is: what should the people of Madagascar do in the face of a respiratory complication akin to what they have been treating with artemisinin, when there is no cure at any rate? There are no fatalities there, so where are the researchers to dig deeper? 

The great divide mentality makes us fear everything different from our mainstream; or what we do not understand. Millions before us survived on indigenous knowledge. We should respect them enough to ask questions first, not be dismissive.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs. Follow hom on Twitter @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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