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Updated Apr 24, 2020

Malagasy president Andry Rajoelina this week promoted a locally made herbal tea as both a vaccine against and a cure for COVID-19. Called Covid-Organics, it contains the dried leaves of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which has long been used in Chinese traditional medecine and in antimalarial remedies.

 

A photo taken on 21 April 2020 at the Agroscope (Federal Competence Centre for Agricultural Research) in Conthey shows young Artemisia annua plants which the president of Madagascar has officially launched a local herbal remedy claimed to prevent and cure the novel coronavirus. The drink, which has been called Covid-Organics, is derived from artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment, and other indigenous herbs, according to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA), which developed the beverage. But its safety and effectiveness have not been assessed internationally, nor has any data from trials been published in peer-reviewed studies. Mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from untested herbal brews. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A young sweet wormwood plant, which is native to Asia but is now widely naturalized. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

 

No Clinical Proof

Almost immediately, concerns were raised over the lack of any hard scientific evidence that the remedy actually works, and the fact that the president declared all primary and secondary schoolchildren are to use the treatment. A chemist who has spent fifteen years studying the medicinal properties of Artemisia annua, Dr. Pierre Lutgen from Luxembourg, published a statement on Tuesday, stressing that there is no clinical proof the herbal tea is an effective remedy, and that it is likely to harm the health of people who take it, children in particular.

Dr. Lutgen doesn’t want to completely dismiss the potential benefits of the plant, but fears that the president’s decision to amplify the untested treatment and gradually reopen the country starting Wednesday, April 23, could create false hope and discredit the value of the plant for use in other remedies, such as malaria.

 

Madagascar has managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic.

 

The former Malagasy president, Marc Ravalomanana, who is now in the opposition, also expressed his concern about promoting an unproven remedy, as it has not been endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Madagascar has managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic, with only 121 reported cases and no deaths. Locals and outside observers have attributed some of the country’s success to its tradition of using plants for medicinal use, alongside its swift lockdown on March 23 of its two largest cities, the capital Antananarivo and the port city of Toamasina, after the first cases of COVID-10 were confirmed.

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