By Abimbola Adelakun
Madagascar has been touting a herbal therapy developed by its Malagasy Institute for Applied Research as a cure for COVID 19. Now bottled and labelled COVID-Organics, the therapy is said to be both curative and preventive. Their President, Andry Rajoelina, has been promoting COVID-Organics based on their country’s record. They have only 326 reported cases of COVID 19, 119 recoveries, and two deaths.
Yet, when you really think about it, there is nothing particularly unique about the much-touted success of Madagascar’s battle against COVID 19. Palestine has 391 cases and two deaths too. Nepal has 402 cases, and also two deaths. The Central Africa Republic has 366 cases; Vietnam, 324 cases; Rwanda, 308; and Uganda, 260; and they have recorded zero deaths. Ethiopia has 365 cases and five deaths. Both Cape Verde and Luhansk People’s Republic have 328 cases and two deaths each. None of these countries has, so far, claimed exceptionalism. So, what makes the case of Madagascar unique that we should take them seriously? At first, when Madagascar started promoting COVID-Organics, they boasted that nobody had died in their country. However, time has proved them wrong.
Meanwhile, there are several legitimate questions around COVID-Organics. According to various media reports, the therapy Rajoelina claims would work within “seven to 10 days” was tested on less than 20 people. One does not need to be a scientist to know that such a sample size is too small to hold up the grandiosity of their claim. Also, as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has told us, about 90 per cent of COVID 19 cases will recover without any intervention whatsoever. That suggests that Madagascar’s success might be a mere lucky coincidence, although we do not know that for a fact yet.
Despite the scepticism in several corners, Madagascar is proceeding with dispensing its miracle cure. They will not wait for their claims to be verified by independent adjudicators. Underlying their haste to save the world from COVID 19 is, of course, the politics of self-validation. They are not alone. Everywhere Africans have promoted the Madagascar cure, they have accompanied their COVID-Organics campaign with a sigh of relief that, finally, we Africans too have something to gift the world. The online magazine, AfricaNews, interviewed a Malagasy who reportedly gushed: “Thanks to this remedy, it is Madagascar that will save the whole world who thinks they are smarter, richer and more knowledgeable than us. Madagascar will have the most knowledge in the fight against the coronavirus and the whole world will turn to us.” If we are honest, this is the same way a lot of Africans feel and that is why they are quite desperate for Madagascar to be proved right in this. They are acting as if the ability to mix herbs is all there is to modern medicine.
We are so obsessed with proving our worth before the world that we would brook no criticisms, even legitimate ones. Rojoelina himself could not help but pull out his race card on the matter. He told France24 during an interview, “What if this remedy had been discovered by a European country, instead of Madagascar? Would people doubt it so much? I don’t think so.” That reasoning is mere claptrap. Yes, people have far more faith in what Europeans develop because they know that western societies are, most of the time, a stickler for rules and procedural standards. Unless you are the USA president, most western world leaders are unlikely to promote and distribute an unproved remedy as he is doing. By not subjecting COVID-Organics to a strict validation test by independent agencies before distributing it, he has given more reasons for Africans to be doubted when they make certain claims. Some years ago, it was President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia doing the same thing Rojoelina is doing with HIV/AIDS cure.
So anxious are his fellow Africans to be the one to save the world that they want the World Health Organisation to endorse COVID-Organics straightaway. When the World Health Organisation insisted on assessing the herbal potion, these people took the WHO’s stand as an anti-African bias. By the time the WHO added that they would support Madagascar to design a study to evaluate the product, the caterwauling had risen well above the voices of reason. Typical of our people to disdain processes, they think they can abjure it. Some even went to the extent of manufacturing the fake news that President Rojeolina had asked African countries to quit dealing with the WHO. But what exactly has the WHO done wrong by asking for the integrity of such processes to be maintained? Is that not how they protect people from quacks? If you expect them to take Rojoelina’s word for it and endorse COVID-Organics, we might as well ask them to authorise drugs people sell inside Molue in the city of Lagos!
All of these bring me to Nigeria and the Malagasy herbal potion.
On Saturday, the President Muhammadu Buhari received a consignment of COVID-Organics through the President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaru Sissoco Embalo, who was in Nigeria on an official visit. Nigeria, meanwhile, is only one of the several countries so far that have benefited from Madagascar’s large-heartedness. Thankfully, Buhari announced COVID-Organics would first be sent to local regulatory bodies for verification, a sensible decision.
Even at that, it is still curious what Madagascar hopes to get out of this unsolicited kindness to other African countries at their expense. What do they want? When the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, was prodded on the claims that Nigeria had gone to Madagascar to beg for the COVID-19 cure, he responded, “Nigeria did not ask Madagascar for any solution…The Madagascan (sic) government decided to airlift quantities meant for African countries and so that of West Africa was airlifted to Guinea-Bissau. So, all the members of ECOWAS have their commodities off-loaded in Guinea-Bissau and that was the one I referred to, that we were making arrangements to evacuate. But the impression out there was as if we abandoned homegrown solutions and were looking for Madagascan (sic) solution. We did not ask for it, but it was taken in the spirit of brotherly love, or African brotherly love.”
He added that they have not requested any payment for COVID-Organics. I find these things curious.
First, what is “African brotherly love?” and how is it supposed to operate in matters of international relations? Consider this: Madagascar is sending out untested therapies to the rest of Africa without an invoice. As they are doing that, they are also planning to build a factory to process the plant, Artemisia, the main ingredient from which COVID-Organics was made because, according to Rojoelina, it can treat “lots of diseases.” In summary, Nigeria, having received the consignment, will send the received samples to her regulatory agencies where the country’s researchers will use their expertise to determine if the herbal remedy works or not. That means we are bearing part of the expense for the verification of how COVID-Organics works.
Given how much racial sentiment Madagascar has ramped up internationally while promoting its product, Nigerian researchers will also have to deal with the politics of Pan African pride in announcing their findings. If COVID-Organics shows promise, what next? Will they sell us more free batches or will we have to start buying, now that they are setting up a factory? What do we get for our investment in the process? If, on the other hand, they find that Madagascar’s claims have no merit, will Nigeria be able to face the world and say we have been duped? We will let down our African brothers eager to prove themselves to an indifferent world. The same people that have been lampooning the WHO will allege Nigeria is in cahoots with global forces that do not want Africa to be great. There will be lots of sentiment-mongering, and some other African countries will keep buying the miracle cure to prove their “African brotherly love.” Either way, I do not see a neat way out of this.