Matshidiso Moeti, the regional head for Africa for the World Health Organisation , has stood firm in the face of backlash from the continent over her advice to hold back on using herbal medicine from Madagascar against COVID-19.
Social media was alive with criticism in the days following Moeti’s cautious reaction to this a tonic produced from a plant called Artemesia blended with a collection of herbs grown on the island of Madagascar. Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina has presented it to heads of state at the African Union as a herbal prevention of treatment of COVID-19.
“Africa should believe in herself instead of waiting for approval from a foreign organization to provide a cure for COVID-19,”says one tweet this week despite the fact that South Africa has volunteered to test the elixir.
“We survived diseases with our own traditional remedies for centuries without WHO’s approval. We are Africans, the bush is our pharmacy,” say other tweets, “Rather be killed by an African drug than a western vaccine.”
In her response Moeti was diplomatic, yet firm in her response in WHO’s weekly briefing to Africa’s media. She pointed out that WHO had worked for many years with governments to help them integrate African medicine into their health systems and also supported trials of herbal cures.
“Any medicine that is to be used we advise people to take it through trials . We are in talks with Madagascar to see what we can do,” says Moeti.
“We are not at all discouraging the use of the product, but would like to advise that is tested so when we celebrate the use of this product in Africa is we would like to do so with some evidence from tests behind it.”
For centuries – long before pharmaceuticals factories were built – African herbs were a natural and trusted way of healing and warding off ailments. The liquid is being made by the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research and distributed door-to-door by soldiers in the capital Antananarivo. The WHO also painted a bleak picture of COVID-19 in Africa. It said there were 72,000 confirmed 2500 died in 47 countries in Africa. On top of this, there were 200 million Africans going hungry, according to the World Food Programme, with many more by the day as children missed their only meal of the day as school stayed shut.