By Chris Bishop.
It was raised and tended, by hand, in the shady herbal gardens on an island amid the warm sea breezes of the east coast of Africa. It is intended to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but the World Health Organisation says: don’t touch it – yet.
It is a balm 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. 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.
Yet, in its online briefing to journalists, WHO’s regional director Matshidiso Moeti warned Africans to steer clear of the liquid from Madagascar.
“We are advising the government of Madgascar to take this through a clinical trial…So, we would caution and advise against countries adopting a product that has not been tested for its efficacy. Everything should be used only after clinical trials,” says Moeti when questioned about the elixir from Madagascar.
“We are concerned that the touting of this product as a preventative measure might stop people doing the right things to protect themselves.”
South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize tweeted: “We received a call from the government of Madagascar, who asked for help with scientific research. Our scientists would be able to assist with this research. We will only get involved in a scientific analysis of the herb. We are not at that point yet.”
Moeti, a South African born doctor raised in Botswana, painted a grim picture of the fight against COVID-19 that has seen 2000 people die. To make matters worse, she said, 1000 health workers had fallen foul of the disease leaving a shortage of workers in treating all diseases.
“I have a lot of faith in the resilience of African people. We will not see a continent flattened and in despair. It will be difficult but I am sure we will come through this together and stronger,”says Moeti.
Get the best of CNBC Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent. Sign up here.