Scientists are putting an herbal remedy from Madagascar, purported to cure COVID-19, to the test.
Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, in Potsdam, are collaborating with a U.S. company, ArtemiLife, to test an extract from the plant Artemisia annua to determine its effectiveness in speeding recovery from the virus.
“We are working with two independent laboratories to ensure the highest possible quality and exclude any bias in the results,” Peter Seeberger, lead researcher, told VOA in an email response.
Seeberger is hopeful the first results will be back soon. “We have collected a significant body of data but are again repeating the work to make sure any results are reproducible multiple times,” he said. “Within the next couple of weeks, we will be in a position to speak with certainty to the activity of this class of compounds. Logical next steps will be human clinical trials, provided that we have a positive outcome of our current studies.”
Several scientists in African countries, including South Africa and Senegal, are currently performing tests as well. The World Health Organization has also pledged to conduct a study into the plant’s effectiveness.
The controversial plant mixture first came to prominence when Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina announced it had been shown to treat the coronavirus. He said he considered it a “miracle cure.” The herbal medicine has also been used for treatment of malaria.
“The patients who have healed have taken no other product than COVID-Organics,” Rajoelina said, speaking in French to France 24. “The patients tend to heal [in] seven to 10 days,” Rajoelina added when asked for evidence. More than 20 African countries have placed orders for what is now dubbed “COVID-Organics,” including the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania.
Despite Madagascar’s exports of the herbal medicine to several countries, doubts remain. Professor Stanley Okolo, the director-general of the West Africa Health Organization, part of the regional Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, sounded a note of caution on VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio program. “We have not seen the evidence of the research,” he said. “I have heard that it has cured two people, and for us in the medical field and in the health profession, we need evidence before we can support a cure.”
There has been additional skepticism coming from the World Health Organization and other prominent health bodies. “Seventy traditional medicine experts from countries across Africa held a virtual meeting with the WHO on the role of traditional medicine in the COVID19 response,” WHO’s regional office for Africa tweeted on May 12. “They unanimously agreed that clinical trials must be conducted for all medicines in the Region, without exception.”
Denis Chopera, a virologist working in South Africa, said that, since there are no side effects, the herb can’t cause harm, but people shouldn’t presume it is a miracle cure. “People are taking immune boosters and so on,” he said on VOA’s English-to-Africa’s radio and TV programs. “So, I don’t think there's any harm, but I don't think people should expect that it will treat them and cure COVID-19 because that has not been proven scientifically.”
This story originated in the Africa Division with reporting contributions from VOA’s English-to-Africa’s James Butty and Jason Patinkin.