By Joe Monyue
A drink Covid-Organics made from Artemisi Annua, a herb from Madagascar, is gaining traction across the African continent as a cure and a preventative dietary supplement for the Covid-19 disease, despite warnings from both the WHO and the African Union (AU). Both organizations claim that there is no evidentiary science or data from Madagascar to prove that the drink prevents or cures the virus. But that hasn’t stopped President Andy Rajoelina from announcing to the world his newfound elixir, and of course, pallets of the drinks were sent to fellow African leaders, including President Weah, who took delivery of a batch this week.
President Rajoelina also mandated that the drink which is produced by the Malgache Institute of Applied Research (IMFA), would be prescribed in syrup form “to all school children, to help to protect themselves against the pandemic.”
Rajoelina is not a scientist, nor is he a doctor. Prior to becoming the President of Madagascar, he was a media entrepreneur. There’s nothing in the president’s background, or experience, that qualifies him to challenge the WHO. He simply lacks the credentials. It would also help if the president understood the dynamics of how supplements and drugs are regulated.
Covid-Organics, would be listed under the Dietary Supplements category by international regulatory bodies such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the WHO. Dietary supplements, as a rule, are not subject to regulation because they are categorized as foods. However, when a manufacturer, in this case, a Madagascar manufacturer and the President of Madagascar tout a drink as having therapeutic properties that cure a disease then the category is automatically changed to a regulated drug. And a regulated drug has to go through human trials known as clinical trials. The trials will determine the safety or efficacy of the drink to ensure that they are safe for human consumption.
Those trials will also determine the side effects of the drug if any. Clinical trials are done in Phases, usually four phases, and last a couple of years. When human lives are involved, there are no cutting corners. It is imperative that the IMFA take the potion through universal best practices such as testing, and of course, a clinical trial before taking the potion to market. That is the basis of the statement made by both the WHO and the AU.
Artemisia Annua has been in use for over a century to combat Malaria in Madagascar; it was brought to that country by the Chinese. While it has shown promise as an anti-malarial potion, however, skeptics believe that touting it as a cure for a respiratory disease such as Covid-19 is a stretch. That said, the drink is one of many drugs, mostly Anti-Malarial, that are being suggested as probable repurposed drugs in the war against the Coronavirus. But the Madagascar President is not alone in his excitement over an anti-Malarial drug being used for Covid; President Donald Trump is on record, much to the chagrin of the scientific community, for recommending that Hydroxychloroquine be used as a drug against the Covid-19 virus. Like the Madagascar leader, the data did not bear Trump out, but he went ahead and had India ship a massive consignment of the drug, even threatening India with sanctions if it did not comply. Never mind the fact that the drug had yet to be tested in a clinical trial in order to determine its safety, toxicity, and efficacy. In fact, Trump’s Hydroxychloroquine pitch led to the death of a man in Florida who ingested industrial Chloroquine, a solution used for cleaning swimming pools. His wife, who also ingested the solution, survived to tell the world that her husband was going by statements made by Trump regarding the efficacy of Chloroquine.
An African president using his office to claim a cure for a pandemic is nothing new. Some of us watched in horror in 2007 when the Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh claimed to the world that he had found the cure for HIV/AIDS. How did President Jammeh come across a cure when the international community of scientists had been working feverishly for decades and could not find a cure? Jammeh claimed that the treatment came to him in a dream from his ancestors. Jammeh, in earnest, was playing the part of the proverbial African Witch Doctor; there were no trials to determine if his concoction was safe. In fact, he was sued in 2018 by three Gambian citizens for imperiling their lives with the daily application of this herb.
Raejolina’s claims about the potency of Covid-Organics is an entrepreneurial move by an entrepreneur who wants to profit off of the global panic buying of anything that resembles a cure for Covid-19. But let’s not throw caution to the wind, and instead take our cue from the WHO and the AU, as well as Raejolina’s own National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar. The academy warned in a statement: “It is a drug whose scientific evidence has not yet been established, and which risks damaging the health of the population, in particular, that of children,”
Joe Monyue, an entrepreneur, is a small business owner who heads Quality Resource Solutions, LLC, a firm that provides FDA regulatory compliance consultants to pharmaceutical companies. He can be reached at [email protected]