COVID Organics: Remembering How Madagascar Lied To The World


As the world grappled with the new reality of coronavirus disease without a cure or a stipulated treatment pattern earlier this year, countries in the Global North appeared helpless and hapless. Those with ageing populations and many with underlying health conditions were hit the most. The infection and death rates were alarming. Scientists, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners put on their thinking caps and worked relentlessly to save the world, but with little or no results.

Madagascar, an island country in the Indian Ocean suddenly came with a populist answer. The small and poor country announced the development of a preventive and treatment herbal solution for the disease called 'Covid Organics'(CVO) on the 20th of April 2020. The herbal drink was produced from a species under the Artemisia genus from which Artemisinin is extracted for malaria treatment. It was developed and produced in Madagascar by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research.

The country claimed to have tested it on less than 30 coronavirus patients and according to them, they were cured and discharged. As at when the announcement of the herbal tonic was made, Madagascar recorded a relatively low number of infections and no deaths. The African country had recorded 128 confirmed cases, which later decreased to 36 cases at the end of the month with no deaths recorded. This gave credibility to the acclaimed potency of the herbal solution. The country's president, Andry Rajoelina, appears to be a public relations and marketing expert. He became the face of the herbal solution as he launched a massive campaign to sell the solution to the outside world.

He was pictured drinking the solution severally in public alongside its cabinet members. He granted interviews to the international media about the efficacy of the solution. With the number of global cases seamlessly approaching 2 million and over 200,000 deaths as at then in April, the president got the worldwide attention he anticipated. It should be noted that the world was so desperate for a cure that when President Donald Trump suggested the injecting of disinfectants to cure the virus, irradiating patients' bodies with UV light or the use of Hydroxychloroquine, global attention was drawn to these mostly odd suggestions. 

As President Andry Rajoelina sold the idea of the tonic to the world, the World Health Organization reacted. The global body cautioned the world against using the tonic as it was largely untested. This attracted a backlash from Rajoelina who claimed the world was only undermining Madagascar because of its size and location. The African Union struggled to support Madagascar, but it finally entered into discussions with the Malagasy government to test the drug's safety and efficiency. This has yielded results until this moment. Samples of the tonic were also shipped to Nigeria at an unconfirmed price of over N70 million. Till date, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, which was evaluating the tonic is yet to show conclusive results.

As the argument about the integrity of the solution went back and forth amid a global emergency, reality soon started to dawn on Rajoelina as the disease started spreading slowly within his country, despite the wide circulation of the CVO.

On the 16th of May, Madagascar recorded its first death. The victim was an unnamed 57-year-old medical worker who suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. The severity of the underlying health conditions of the person saved the face of the president, so the marketing process of the tonic continued with the audience of the campaign messages retained. At the end of the month, 771 confirmed cases were recorded and a total of 6 people died. In June, more 1443 people tested positive to coronavirus bringing the total number of infected people to 2,214 with the number of fatalities increased to 20. At this point, the hype around the CVO was already dead and gone. The president crawled back into oblivion and the regular media rounds he participated in ceased.

But this isn't the end of it. Coronavirus meant business in Madagascar and the disease was out to make a bold statement. Things got worse in July. As at today, 5,080 confirmed cases, 2,494 recoveries, have been recorded with 37 deaths in Madagascar. As the cases surged, the government went into panic mode on the 7th of July and re-imposed a lockdown on the central region, including its capital, Antananarivo, to contain the spread of the virus.

The lockdown might have slowed down the spread of the virus but it hasn't deterred it from wreaking havoc in the country. Two days ago, it was announced that two lawmakers had died of the coronavirus with 25 others testing positive. The deceased comprise one Senator and a member of the lower chamber. 11 other members and 14 senators also tested positive.

A week ago, there was mass hysteria in Madagascar over rumours that the president, who is the 'brand ambassador' of CVO had tested positive to coronavirus which he dispelled on social media.

Today, the country’s caseload is one of the highest in the southern African region. it is also the most impacted island nation on the continent. Nobody talks about the CVO anymore. It appears the herbal tea has failed the country and the bragging rights of the president have faded away. From the look of things, he might be open to international aids on battling the rampaging disease in the country.

Madagascar has been accused of lying to the world about finding a local cure for the disease which originated from Wuhan, China in December 2019. Analysts who believe Madagascar was out for selfish financial gains amid the crisis, claim the president could have subjected the herbal tea to a rigorous scientific validation process, with thousands of participants enrolled, before going public about its successes.

The popular belief is that Madagascar lied and attempted to scam the world with the production of the CVO. The CVO will be remembered as a failed project and one of the distractions that arouse during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For now, there is no cure/vaccine for the disease although some scientists and drug companies are making much progress in developing one.

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About Osahon

I'm a journalist and a Political Scientist undergoing a doctoral programme focused on media, democracy and governance in Africa. My mission is to uphold the role of the media as the 'fourth estate of the realm' and also tell the Nigerian Story to the world. You can contact me on Phone number: +2347053302356.
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