Does Madagascar have a cure for COVID-19?
“All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing and elimination of symptoms has been proven in the treatment of Covid-19 patients in Madagascar.”
According to Andry Rajoelinam, the President of Madagascar, Africa's Covid-19 concerns might soon be over.
In April he announced that Covid-Organics, a bitter herbal drink produced by The Malagasy Institute of Applied Research in Madagascar's capital city, could both prevent and cure Covid-19.
Tanzania, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau might soon be distributing the formulation among their citizens, having already made plans to bring the tonic into their countries.
But does it work?
The short story is that it's impossible to know.
With under 200 confirmed cases, Madagascar doesn't have enough test subjects to conduct meaningful trials. This is especially true of a disease for which most people show no symptoms, and for which 85% of those who do display symptoms only appear mildly ill.
Alright, but could it work?
During the 2005 SARS outbreak potent medicines based on herbal and traditional treatments were explored in initial studies in China. One of these, an alcoholic extract of sweet wormwood, showed a lot of promise.
The Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, in addition to this alleged Covid-19 treatment, has also produced Madeglucyl, an anti-diabetic drug derived from the Eugenia jambolana plant which is used both in Madagascar and abroad.
While it's clear that herbal and traditional medicines do have the potential to produce powerful medicines, Madagascar has not shared any data that shows that Covid Organics is one of them.
More importantly, it does not have enough cases to have produced any meaningful data.
So how can we know if it works?
By conducting meaningful clinical trials.
The African Union has said that it is currently trying to get Madagascar's data on the remedy to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for evaluation.
But considering that Madagascar has less than 200 confirmed cases, it is unlikely that this will prove Rajoelinam's claims.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa region director, has already warned that "touting this product as a preventative measure might make people feel safe", which could mean relaxing measures already proven to help curb the spread of the coronavirus and treat Covid-19.
Until the data comes out, Africans would be safer sticking to the measures we know to work.
1. Clean your hands often. Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
2. Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
3. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention.