A micro-algae recently rediscovered by scientists is helping weak and sick people in West Africa. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Abidjan, with additional reporting by Karene Bassompierre in the town of Adzope, Ivory Coast.
Eight kilograms of micro-algae, known as Spiruline, are being churned out daily in eight basins at this broiling greenhouse factory in Adzope.
Dr. Jean-Claude Gboze, who is the go-between the factory and pharmacists, says some people call spiruline a miracle product, but he says anything that can be explained is not a miracle.
Spiruline, which is found in bodies of water throughout Ivory Coast and West Africa, is rich in proteins, minerals, and anti-oxidants. It formerly was a staple of Aztec meals during that civilization.
Today, it can easily be cultivated in green houses and transformed into pills, tablets or its most effective form, powder, in low-tech laboratories, like this one in Adzope.
At nearby pharmacies and others throughout Ivory Coast, locally-made spiruline products are becoming more and more popular.
Pharmacist Yolande Bla says she recommends it to people with low immunity, flu or malaria. She also recommends it to children, who have a weak appetite or vitamin deficiencies. The only problem she says is the green color which can be scary to some. She says a good trick is to get children to swallow the spiruline with mint syrup.
A recent study by Italian and Burkinabe scientists in the British-based Nutrition Journal says spiruline is an excellent supplement for the malnourished. It also helps the sick get stronger, to follow a course of treatment.
Such findings have long been recognized by some scientists and local healers, but the knowledge is only getting widespread usage now.
The Adzope factory donates a quarter of its production to centers taking care of malnourished children and also to this center for victims of buruli ulcer.
Buruli ulcer is an infectious disease from the same family of bacteria which causes tuberculosis and leprosy. The bacteria suppresses the immune system, destroys skin, and causes severe deformities of limbs.
Sister Jacqueline gives spiruline to all patients at her center. She points to one little boy, Cabrel. She says he arrived at the center "as skinny as dead can be." She says he gained so much weight now, that she stopped giving him the green powder.
Yao Nestor, who has been in this center eight months and now he believes he can live again, says "When I take it, it gives me blood and strength. I see that my cheeks begin to grow, and I start eating." He says normally he does not want to eat the rice they give him, but that, with spiruline, for some reason, he does.
Back at the laboratory in Adzope, Lionel Raobelina, the head researcher, says doctors also need to be educated about the benefits of spiruline.
He says it is an effective and affordable way to help fight severe disease, even ward it off, especially when people are already weak from other diseases. But he adds, unfortunately, most doctors are not accustomed to anticipate serious sickness or to recommend nutritional supplements.