Can an African Cure for COVID-19 be in sight?

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■ Jeff Kapembwa

 

Lusaka-AFRICA has the capacity to make breakthroughs in discovering a remedy with efficacy to cure the COVID-19 plague.

Although the capacity is underrated by Europe, the initiative needs unity of purpose among countries on the continent, Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina says.

Challenging critics who have raised eyebrows over that country’s untested herbal tonic- “COVID Organics” that is being distributed across Madagascar free of charge. This tonic is derived from artemisia annua, a green leafy plant that emits a striking smell, also known as sweet wormwood.

This herbal tonic was developed based on studies by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research and Rajoelina which argues that, “its efficacy was good and is indisputable”. The refusal by the West and some African countries to try the herbal remedy has been viewed by many in Madagascar as the West's condescending attitude towards Africa while for fellow continental states’ the reluctance is seen as a sign of lack of co-existence to support ‘homemade initiatives’.

Recently, the United Nations’ health agency-World Health Organisation (WHO) rejected Madagascar’s findings; warning recipients against using untested remedies. The African Union (AU) has also argued that it needed to see the scientific data on the product.In response to this, Madagascar argues that it seems that, “anything African-made is not acceptable”.

"If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt? I don't think so," Rajoelina is cited as saying in an interview with the French news channel, France 24. “As Africa, we need to support each other” Recently, Zambia’s health minister Chitalu Chilufya raised concern over the efficacy of the herbal medicine arguing that it was not scientifically tested to adapt into Zambia’s clinical trials.

While some African countries have sought to test it through their laboratories, other countries-mainly in West Africa-Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Liberia are among the other 15 countries that ordered COVID-Organics and are verifying its efficacy.

According to research findings, the Madagascar tonic was tried out on fewer than 20 people over three weeks, according to a statement from Madagascar’s Presidency after that the product was launched last month.

The WHO, argues, the findings are not in line with set guidelines on clinical trials. Instead, it recommends testing and contact tracing as the best way to contain the virus.

Last week 70 experts on African traditional medicine and WHO had a virtual meeting on COVID-19 and traditional medicine where they agreed that clinical trials for all medicines must be carried out.

There has also been warning from experts that the drink could give people a false sense of security which could lead people to expose themselves to the virus.

Last week, more than $8bn (£6.5bn) was pledged by donors to help develop a coronavirus vaccine and fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Dozens of research projects trying to find a vaccine are currently underway across the world.

Most experts think it could take until mid-2021, about 12-18 months after the new virus first emerged, for a vaccine to become available. Several African countries acted swiftly in trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus by imposing lockdowns or curfews.  But these are now beginning to be lifted as governments try to balance health and economic interests. The easing of the lockdowns has added urgency to the need to find treatments

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