Coronavirus? Africa thinks it has the answer

AS questions mount over Madagascar’s claimed cure for COVID-19, traditional healers in Cameroon say they are being overwhelmed by the number of people seeking herbal medicine for treatment of the virus.  

The rush for traditional healing comes despite warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the herbal cure for COVID-19 is unproven.

WHO warned the COVID-Organics infusion, which Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina has touted as a remedy against the deadly Coronavirus, has not been clinically tested.

But President Rajoelina ignored criticism for promoting a homegrown ‘remedy’, claiming the West has a condescending attitude toward traditional African medicine.

“If it wasn’t Madagascar, and 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.

The COVID-Organics ‘cure’ from the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research is a herbal drink that it says can both prevent and cure COVID-19, and has already been distributed to school children across Madagascar.

Several countries in Africa have already put in orders for purchasing the herbal drink. 

Cameroon has more than 2500 cases of COVID-19 and 121 deaths. 

But doctors there have cautioned against the  use of herbal medicine for the Coronavirus.

However, traditional healer Dewah says his chain of herbal medicine clinics across Cameroon have been flooded with patients since the March outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Dewah says in the past two months he has received at least 800 people from Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Chad, who say they are rushing for African herbal medicine because they have been told there is no modern cure for COVID-19.

He says the demand for herbal medicine is so high that he cannot treat some patients because he has run short of the potions made from plants he harvests from the forest.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, he claims the potions can treat all the symptoms of COVID-19 and even save the infected from death.

Dianne Sop, a traditional healer in Yaounde, said she too has received about 200 patients seeking treatment for the Coronavirus.

Medical researchers, doctors, and the Cameroon government have urged patients not to rely on traditional medicine for COVID-19 and to seek treatment at hospitals.

Douala city pharmacist Merilyne Peyou said many Cameroonians do not live near hospitals but have easy access to traditional medicine.  

She said many drugs sold in hospitals and pharmacies in Africa originate from herbs and tree leaves that were effectively used to treat Africans long before the arrival of modern medicine. 

The only challenges of African herbal medicine, said Peyou, are that they are difficult to preserve, may become toxic, and healers don’t always know what dosage to prescribe.

WHO has noted that the use of products to treat COVID-19 that have not been proven can put people in danger.

The organisation said untested and unproven medicines give a false sense of security and distract from proven measures such as hand washing and physical distancing.

Also, in the last few days, Archbishop Samuel Kleda has received extensive media coverage in Cameroon for administering herbal medicine to COVID-19 patients, including interviews with State-owned media outlets that have largely ignored him in the past as a result of his stance on good governance, transparent elections and the defence of the poor and downtrodden.

Archbishop Kleda of Cameroon’s Douala Archdiocese, who has practised herbalism for over 30 years, said some staff of the Diocesan health services who tested positive for the COVID-19 pandemic recovered after taking the herbal medicine he came up with and offered to them free of charge.

An uglier side of the story is that Cameroon’s ruling party, the CPDM, is said to be using the crisis to settle scores and punish the opposition.

Human Rights Watch said six volunteers from the Survival Initiative, a fund-raising initiative launched by the leader of the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), Maurice Kamto, were arrested for handing out free protective masks and sanitiser to people in Yaoundé.

“The arrests would be laughable if they weren’t so serious,” the organisation said. 

“The volunteers face charges of rebellion and remain in detention. If found guilty, they could face up to four years in prison.” 

In May, the health minister rejected a donation by Kamto’s initiative of 16,000 protective and surgical masks and 950 COVID-19 screening tests, claiming the initiative had not been legally established.

And in Burundi, where large crowds attend rallies about the soon to be held general election, staff of WHO who complained of the lack of distancing between people, were summarily deported.

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