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Demand soars as Africans order Madagascan Covid-Organics to battle coronavirus

“Since the start of the epidemic, demand for artemisia has gone through the roof,” said Van Damme, a Belgian agronomist marketing it in Senegal said. “But since the Madagascan president’s declarations it’s been crazy.”

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Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina is the promoter-in-chief of the substance, marketed as Covid-Organics and sold in the form of a herbal infusion.

A drink made from a bright-green fern-like plant is being promoted in African countries as the go-to cure for COVID-19.

But detractors have dismissed its claims saying that the concoction remains untested scientifically.

Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina is the promoter-in-chief of the substance, marketed as Covid-Organics and sold in the form of a herbal infusion.

Asserting that the Madagascan brew has the potential to “change history”, Rajoelina has widely distributed it in his Indian Ocean island nation and exported it to many parts of Africa.

The East African countries of Tanzania and the Comoros are among enthusiastic customers as well as Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea on the Atlantic Coast.

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo made a point of personally taking delivery of his country’s Covid-Organics order at the airport.

Artemisia annua has a long history in its native China, where scientists discovered an active ingredient that made the plant a front-line weapon in the fight against malaria.

– Flying off shelves –

Covid-Organics seems to be selling like hotcakes in Madagascar, costing 30 euro cents (35 US) for a 33-centilitre (11-ounce) bottle.

In Senegal, Belgian agronomist Pierre Van Damme markets the product under the label Le Lion Vert (The Green Lion).

“Since the start of the epidemic, demand for artemisia has gone through the roof,” Van Damme said. “But since the Madagascan president’s declarations it’s been crazy.” 

Sales jumped 15-fold in a few weeks, forcing Van Damme to hire eight staff to handle some 2,000 orders a day.

As demand surges for the purported coronavirus remedy, prices have followed suit. 

Ibrahima Diop, a producer in the Dakar area, says the retail price has soared by two-thirds.

“I’m swamped,” grinned Haoua Wardougou, an apothecary in a working-class district of the Chad capital N’Djamena. “I have lots of customers who want to buy some, but I’m out of stock.”

– Western doubts –

The counterpart to this enthusiasm is the cool reception that the drink has met in the West.

The substance has proven effectiveness against malaria, but no clinical trials have tested it against COVID-19, either as a cure or as a preventative. 

In recent weeks, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have underscored the need for empirical testing of local formulas to demonstrate they are safe and effective as claimed.

“We would be very proud if a solution in this war against COVID-19 comes from an African country,” said John Nkengasong, head of the Gabon-based Africa CDC. “But we must be methodical before approving such a remedy.”

Some African countries are exercising caution, handing over their stocks of Covid-Organics for expert analysis.

“They will be subjected to the same process as all other products before they are put on the market,” said Boss Mustapha, Nigeria’s point man in the fight against coronavirus. “There will be no exceptions.”

Even in Madagascar, doubts persist. The dean of the medical faculty in the eastern city of Toamasina, Stephane Ralandison, warned against methods that were “not fully scientific” behind the Covid-Organics’ launch.

“I am extremely cautious,” said sociologist Marcel Razafimahatratra, asking why the drink was not used in China, where the pandemic originated and where artemisia has long been used in traditional medicine.

Clearly thrilled by his new continental fame, Rajoelina is an unabashed defender of Covid-Organics, charging that the West scorns the concoction because of its condescending attitude toward traditional African medicine.

“If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt? I don’t think so,” he told French media.

For evidence he cites Madagascar’s coronavirus statistics: 405 cases including two deaths and 131 recoveries, according to the official count.

‘Green gold’ –

Rajoelina is touting artemisia as the new “green gold” for Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries. 

“Life will change for all Madagascans,” he said, noting that rice fetches $350 (320 euros) a tonne, while artemisia changes hands at nearly 10 times as much at $3,000 a tonne.

A Madagascar-based company, Bionexx, has been producing artemisia since 2005 to fight malaria.

Its CEO Charles Giblain is also convinced of a lucrative future for the crop.

“This plant is a weed that can grow anywhere,” he said. “The only problem is to grow it in conditions that will make it competitive with Chinese rivals.”

Bionexx is working to develop a hybrid to maximise the strength and effectiveness of wild Artemisia annua, with researcher Solofo Rasamiharimanana estimating that the quest could take four years.

But many growers are far from convinced of its market potential.

At the village of Ambohijoky on the outskirts of Antananarivo, farmers tempted by the crop quickly abandoned the effort.

“We dropped it because of the prices,” said one of them, Louis Jean Patrice Rakotoninaina. “We were paid 1,050 ariary (27 cents, 25 euro cents) per kilo of dried artemisia while we expected to get 3,000 ariary.”

Another, Eveline Raharimalala, said anything below 15,000 ariary was not worth growers’ while. She noted that artemisia takes six months to grow — three times longer than other crops.

Bionexx’s Giblain disputes the argument, saying: “If our prices weren’t attractive, we wouldn’t have 16,000 farmers working with us.”

But one of the footsoldiers in this army of producers, Josephe Rakotondramanana, said a more important factor in growing the plant was to have a secure market.

“We don’t grow artemisia for its price (but) because it’s a safe product with less risk of loss and zero need to stock,” said Rakotondramanana, who has worked with Bionexx for five years.

Giblain for his part believes he is looking at Madagascar’s next vanilla — the crop that accounts for 80 percent of world production.

His ambition is to make his business, which currently produces 2,500 tonnes of artemisia per year, one of the world’s top three producers alongside Chinese rivals.

Razafimahatratra, the sociologist, has his doubts.

Rather than banking on a green miracle, he says, the Madagascar government should focus on ensuring food security for the former French colony’s 26 million people, 90 percent of whom live in grinding poverty.

“Instead of importing 300,000 to a million tonnes of rice per year, the country should work to close this gap,” he said.

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Triple Zimbabwean National Heroes Burial for SB Moyo, JB Matiza, Zimondi

The passing of the senior government officials after testing Covid-19 positive sparked national outrage following accusations by information ministry secretary Nick Mangwana that ‘some medical assassins’ were responsible for the deaths.

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Zimbabwe will have a historic triple national hero burial for the first time ever to bury three senior government officials who died from Covid-19 last week.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to preside over the burials of Foreign Affairs Minister retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Busi  Moyo, former Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) boss, retired Major General Paradzai Zimondi and the late Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joel Biggie Matiza set for interment at the National Heroes Acre in Harare Wednesday.

The burial of the three men, who succumbed to Covid-19 last week, will be the first of burying more than two national heroes at the same time.

Last week, Mnangagwa also presided over the double burial of Manicaland provincial minister and Ellen Gwaradzimba and former deputy minister Morton Malianga.

Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe announced the triple burial of Moyo, the Foreign Minister who died last Wednesday, Transport Minister Matiza and former Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Commissioner General, Zimondi who both died last Friday.

“They will all be buried on Wednesday at the National Heroes Acre. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and all the containment measures will be adhered to. These include limited numbers at the Heroes Acre to curtail the spread of the pandemic,” Kazembe said.

The passing of the senior government officials after testing Covid-19 positive sparked national outrage following accusations by information ministry secretary Nick Mangwana that ‘some medical assassins’ were responsible for the deaths.

The triple national hero burial comes just six days after the double national hero burial of the late Minister of State For Manicaland Province Ellen Gwaradzimba and late nationalist and former deputy finance minister Morton Dizzy Paul Malianga.  

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COVID-19 Kills 70 Zimbabweans in 24 Hours

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Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care says the coronavirus (COVID-19) has killed 70 people in 24 hours, taking the country’s death toll to 1,075 under a second wave of the pandemic that has led to a spike in deaths and infections.

The ministry, in a statement on Tuesday said 326 new COVID-19 cases were reported, bringing the country’s total caseload to 31,646.

A total of 627 people recovered from the virus, bringing the country’s total cases of recovery to 2,287.

Also, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide is expected to reach 100 million within this week, said the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“A year ago today, fewer than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 had been reported to WHO, including just 23 cases outside China.

“This week, we expect to reach 100 million reported cases.

“Numbers can make us numb to what they represent: every death is someone’s parent, someone’s partner, someone’s child, someone’s friend,” Tedros said at a WHO news briefing on Monday.

He called for vaccination of health workers and older people to be underway in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.

He also quoted two latest reports to show that without equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, the world would have to face not only a catastrophic moral failure, but also an economic failure.

According to a new report from the International Labour Organisation, which analyses the impact of the pandemic on the global labour market, some 8.8 per cent of global working hours were lost in 2020.

This had resulted in a decline in global labour income equivalent to $3.7Tln.

The report projects that most countries will recover in the second half of 2021, depending on vaccination rollout, and recommends international support for the vaccine rollout in low- and middle-income countries and to promote economic and employment recovery.

The second report, commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation, finds that vaccine nationalism could cost the global economy up to 9.2 trillion dollars, almost half of which, about 4.5 trillion, would be incurred in the wealthiest economies.

In contrast, the financing gap for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, a WHO-led initiative, is 26 billion dollars this year, according to Tedros, who added that the ACT Accelerator, if fully funded, would return up to 166 dollars for every dollar invested.

“Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s in every nation’s own medium and long-term economic interest to support vaccine equity,” he said.

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Four Cases of UK COVID-19 Variant Discovered in Nigeria

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The Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has reported the presence of four Nigerians who tested positive to the highly contagious United Kingdom (UK) COVID-19 strain.

Ihekweazu, who disclosed this at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, in Abuja, stated the positive cases include three Nigerians who had travelled out of the country, while one was in-country, adding that it was not surprising to find the new strain in the country given the frequency of travel between the UK and Nigeria.

“In the last week, we have had three reports of the UK variant of interest, the B117 strain found in individuals who have left Nigeria to two other countries.

“When they were tested, this strain was found in them within a week of returning to Nigeria. This was reported to us through the international health regulations and it is most likely this strain was acquired in Nigeria.

“With our partners, the African Centre for Excellence in Genomics, we sent 50 samples to them in Ede and one of those samples had the UK variant linked to increased transmission,” he explained.

Ihekweazu said that the agency would keep intensifying its genomics surveillance and genomics sequencing, in collaboration with its partners, as shutting down international travel would not achieve much, so long as the virus was still ravaging in other countries.

He disclosed that the NCDC had rolled out rapid diagnostic test kits, which were used at the National Youth Service Orientation camps, adding that 22,119 individuals had been tested, with 765 confirmed cases, using the RTDs in every state, except Kogi.

Meanwhile, Ihekweazu has denied reports that the NCDC is making money from the private laboratories engaged in COVID-19 testing.

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