Tue. Jan 19th, 2021

Whatever happened to Madagascar’s ‘herbal cure for COVID-19’?

Before the vaccines, we had this: A so-called ‘miracle cure’ for COVID-19 touted by Madagascar. But just how effective was this treament?

whatever happened to madagascars herbal cure for covid 19 - Whatever happened to Madagascar’s ‘herbal cure for COVID-19’?

The hard lockdown was a harrowing ordeal that none of us should ever have to relive ever again. However, there was one utterly bonkers sub-plot developing across the Indian Ocean. Back in April, Madagascar’s Government declared it had created a ‘herbal cure’ for COVID-19, and began distributing the remedy immediately.

Their claims were met with both derision and optimism. Most of the western world dismissed the alleged ‘healing powers’ of the drink, but several African nations – including Senegal – signed up to purchase stocks. The concoction was made up of indigenous plants and traditional herbs that were mixed and bottled accordingly on the island – but did it actually work?

The jury is still out on that one…

Madagascar’s herbal cure for COVID-19: What happened?

More than a quarter of Madagascar’s 26 million inhabitants have so far taken the drink, according to government figures, and there are still nine million bottles in stock. But the Indian Ocean island nation has still recorded more than 17 341 coronavirus cases and at least 251 deaths, although the spread of infection has slowed in recent weeks.

613e4ea4 madagascar - Whatever happened to Madagascar’s ‘herbal cure for COVID-19’?
Cases peaked in July and August for Madagascar, despite the use of their herbal treatment – Photo: Worldometer

WHO ‘have considered research’ into traditional medicines

Two months ago, the WHO endorsed a protocol for testing African herbal alternatives as potential treatments for the coronavirus and other epidemics. Prosper Tumusiime, a regional WHO director, said that the efficacy of traditional medicine would also be looked into – but this hasn’t served as a green-light for distribution.

“If a traditional medicine product is found to be safe, efficacious, and quality-assured, WHO will recommend (it) for a fast-tracked, large-scale local manufacturing. The onset of COVID-19. has highlighted the need for strengthened health systems and accelerated research and development programmes, including on traditional medicines.”

Prosper Tumusiime

Madagascar ‘cure for COVID-19’: Results remain inconclusive

It’s crucial to note that the infusion’s effects have not yet been scientifically tested – and the WHO has issued several warnings against its use for the time being. However, Rinah Rakotomanga, a communications official for the Madagascar Government, told the BBC that the country still encourages the use of the herbal ‘potion’:

“The majority of people who used the product and don’t have a chronic illness recovered completely, we are proud to have this remedy against the disease. It’s in our culture as Malagasy people to use decoctions like this… as long as it’s working, we don’t need clinical trials.”

Rinah Rakotomanga

Government spin for dubious treatment

It was a different story during winter, when cases were quadrupling and hitting a domestic high of 400 a day. Health Minister Ahmad Ahmad sounded the alarm in July – but at a political cost to himself. He sent out a letter to international aid donors, saying the trend was now “very critical… with notable flare-ups in certain regions, particularly in Antananarivo.”

Urgent needs included 337 ventilators, 2.3 million face masks, 697 000 pairs of gloves, 533 200 medical blouses, and multiple oxygen bottles. The government reacted sharply, describing the appeal as ‘a personal initiative taken without consulting’ President Rajoelina. Indeed, criticism of the regime’s COVID-19 reaction is a dangerous game.

On 13 July, two youths put up a banner on a busy road in the capital Antananarivo seeking the release of the leader of their student group who had been detained in June for criticising the potion on Facebook. They were arrested and questioned.

Did Madagascar’s herbal cure actually work?

So, to answer the question posed earlier…

  • It is yet to be approved for usage by the WHO – but the government of Madagascar is still touting its own remedy.
  • Although tests are ongoing to decide if the drink works or not, it seems vaccine treatments will be prioritised now.
  • Cases remain relatively low on the island – but the so-called ‘cure’ failed to prevent hundreds of death and a nasty peak.
  • One in four Madagascans have taken the treatment, yet hospitals were – at one point – ‘overwhelmed’ with new cases.
  • Internal dissent regarding the ‘potion’ has not been welcomed: Ministers have been sacked, and protesters arrested.

[Additional reporting provided by AFP]

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