Could there be something to Madagascar’s COVID-19 herbal remedy?

As COVID-19 spread across Africa and leaders put their countries in lockdown, Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina in April launched a herbal remedy that he claimed could prevent and cure the disease.

The announcement caught medical experts, who have scrambled to find a cure for the disease that has killed almost half a million and infected just under million people globally, by surprise.

President Andry Rajoelina

Rajoelina, a former DJ who in 2009 at the age of 34 became the continent’s youngest national leader, claimed at the launch that the remedy, named Covid-Organics, had already cured two people.

“This herbal tea gives results in seven days,” Rajoelina, 45, told journalists and diplomats in April.

Soon after, soldiers reportedly went door-to-door in the Indian Ocean island country dispensing the concoction. To date, Madagascar has reported 1,094 cases, 254 recoveries and 9 fatalities.

What is in Covid-Organics?

According to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, which developed the beverage, the remedy is produced from Artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy against malaria and other indigenous herbs. The island nation first imported from China in the 1970s to treat malaria. It is now marketed in bottles as a herbal tea, while President Rajoelina has said clinical trials are underway in Madagascar to produce an injectable version. 

Is it safe or effective?

Following Rajoelina’s claims, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised people against using untested remedies for COVID-19.

“Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world,” WHO, the United Nations health agency, said in a statement.

“Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical,” the statement added.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warned people against using unproven remedies.

“There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume,” the CDC said.

Meanwhile, the African Union said it was in discussion with Madagascar with a view to obtaining technical data regarding the safety and efficiency of the herbal remedy. In an attempt to reassure people and brush aside safety concerns, Rajoelina took a dose of Covid-Organics at the launch event and said it was safe to be given to children.

Several African countries, including Tanzania, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau either placed orders or received consignments of the remedy.

At the time, Tanzanian President, John Magufuli said he was dispatching a plane to Madagascar to collect a shipment of the tonic.

“I’m communicating with Madagascar,” Magufuli said during a speech, adding: “They have got a medicine. We will send a flight there and the medicine will be brought in the country so that Tanzanians too can benefit.”

Botswana’s history with artemisia

The Madagascar COVID19 cure is made from as a highly aromatic plant, Artemisia, known as Lengana in Botswana. While there have been no scientific tests, this indigenous anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antidepressant herb has been known to treat a host of medical conditions, including respiratory ones. It has properties that treat sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis, nasal congestion, flu symptoms, piles and ringworm. For centuries Southern Africans used Lengana leaves in tea form to treat various ailments including asthma, colds, coughs, sinusitis, colic, fever, headache, earache, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, intestinal worms and the flu. People would either push the leaves up their nostrils or boil them to make tea or use the tea as an antiseptic. 

Lengana

With urbanisation, Lengana became scarce and difficult to find. Called African Wormwood in English, Wilde Als in Afrikaans, Umhlonyane in Zulu, Artemisia Afra is what Batswana and Basotho call Lengana. For years, local pharmaceutical company, Thusano Lefatsheng has farmed, packaged and sold Lengana to pharmacies across Botswana.

Lengana is still one of the most widely used traditional remedies across Southern Africa. The versatile remedy has also been made into an ointment used as nipple cream as well as to treat mosquito, tick & other insects bites.

In 1652 when Jan Van Riebeeck’s ships docked in what was to become Cape Town, the indigenous people he found were already using Lengana as traditional medicine. Van Riebeeck and his crew members would also use the herb, a fact he later noted in his diary. In his diary, the Dutch sailor wrote that they used Lengana for a variety of complaints, from gout to jaundice. While the United States has dismissed Rajoelina’s claims, in 2005 it donated millions of Rand to South African researchers to investigate Lengana for its reputed benefits against Tuberculosis – which can resist western medicine.

“Real medicine comes from the earth, not a laboratory” – a local herbal healer’s perspective

I want to believe that anyone who has been closely following COVID-19 on CNN, SKY News and eNCA to name a few, over the past few weeks has now learnt a little bit about how the world works. We have been summoned by our respective Governments to go on a lockdown to prevent the spread of this virus and we have complied.We have been told by our respective leaders to practice social distancing and have altered our lives, customs, traditions, religions and rituals to comply with these new regulations.

We as Africans have since antiquity been able to heal our African bodies. Covid-19 is an infection of the lungs. Africans know where the cure for lung diseases is found, we know it grows in the ground on which we walk. We also know how to treat our bodies of Pneumonia, Asthma, Fever, Flu, Tuberculosis, Malaria, runny nose, sore throat and cough. The only thing we need to do is share the knowledge with those that don’t know.

If the World Health Organization recommends that we eat healthy food, why is it not talking about the medicinal plants that may assist with ailments of the respiratory system? I call on all African Ministers Of Health to facilitate and collaborate with traditional healers and herbalist to rise and heal our fellow brothers and sisters the African way.

Here is a list of indigenous medicinal plants that have been used in traditional remedies against respiratory ailments and have been passed down from generation to generation by our dearly departed African ancestors.

1.Lengana (Artemisia Afra) 
2. Tshuko ya Poo (Hypoxix Hemerocallidea) 
3. Moporota (Kigelia Africana)
4. Moologa (Croton Gratissimus) 
5.Moretologa wa Pudi (Ximmenia Americana) 
6. Moretologa wa Kgomo (Ximenia Caffra) 
7. Rothwe (Cleome Gynandra)
8. Pepere (Schinus Molle) 
9. Mositsane (Elephantorrhiza Elephantina) 
10. Mmaba (Securidaca Longipedunculata)
11. Mpiletse-Betsho (helichrysum Odoratissimum)
12. Moswi wa rula (Myrothamnus Flabellifolius)
13. Mokokonane (Bridelia Mollis)
14. Rumo le Madi (Suthernadia Frutescens)
15. Monepenepe (Cassia Abbreviata)
16. Blue Gum Tree (Eucalyptus Globulis) 
17. Masegomabe (Plumbago Zeylanica) 
18. Kgalemela (Hirpicium Bechuanense)
19. Monamane (Cassine Transaalenisi)

These plants may be used in combination and taken orally or boiled and then the steam inhaled. You may also add lemon, ginger, garlic and honey to increase the potency. Instead of lying in a hospital bed waiting while your health deteriorates, just know that there are alternative ways of healing and they are organic. – Otsile Molefe via Facebook – April 21, 2020.

Botswana Government response

When news of the Madagascar herbal remedy broke, there was naturally a flurry of excitement among those who were already aware of Lengana. However, the Ministry of Health and Wellness swiftly burst that bubble by discouraging the public from leaning heavily on the herb. The ministry’s stance was that it couldn’t very well endorse the use of the herb as a COVID-19 cure in the absence of robust scientific facts and research. Botswana wasn’t among the African countries that scrambled to place orders for COVID-Organics.

To date, Botswana has had 42 confirmed cases, 1 death and 24 recoveries.

References: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/coronavirus-madagascar-herbal-remedy-covid-organics-200505131055598.html / https://www.sundaystandard.info/herb-used-for-madagascan-covid-19-cure-also-found-in-botswana / Otsile Molefe Facebook page

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