The African Union (AU) will test the controversial herbal remedy for Covid-19 from Madagascar.
The move comes as more than five African countries continue to receive supplies of the remedy despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning about its use.
The WHO announced on Tuesday evening that it held a virtual meeting with 70 traditional medicine experts from African countries on the role of traditional medicine in Covid-19 response.
The experts “unanimously agreed that clinical trials must be conducted for all medicines in the region, without exception”.
Madagascar’s herbal remedy is based on the artemisia annual plant, which has antimalarial properties and was developed by the state-run Malagasy Institute of Applied Research.
On Wednesday, AU Commission Deputy Chairperson Kwesi Quartey announced that the organisation will collaborate with Madagascar’s health ministry to test the efficacy of the treatment.
“I am excited to update you that the Republic of Madagascar, through its Ministry of Health, has agreed to collaborate with the African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) to explore further the remedy they have discovered for the treatment of Covid-19 to benefit the continent at large,” Mr Kwesi said on Twitter.
Last week, South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that they had received a scientific research request from Madagascar on the remedy.
“We received a call from the government of Madagascar, who asked for help with scientific research. Our scientists will 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,” Mr Mkhize said.
By Monday, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Central African Republic, Congo and Equatorial Guinea had received their consignments of the herbal remedy.
Last week, the AU received data on the remedy for review based on global technical and ethical norms. This followed the AU’s request at the end of April for Madagascar to furnish it with the data on safety and efficacy.
“Once furnished with the details, the Union, through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, will review the scientific data gathered so far on the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 Organics. This review will be based on global technical and ethical norms to garner the necessary scientific evidence regarding the performance of the tonic,” the AU said in a statement.
WHO has called for caution, especially in the African countries ordering the remedy, warning that its effectiveness remains unproven.
“We are concerned that people who will drink the product might feel they are immune to Covid-19 and engage in risky behaviour, thinking the product can prevent spread of the virus,” WHO Africa head Matshidiso Moeti said.
Ms Moeti, however, said WHO had advised the government of Madagascar to take the product through a clinical trial and “are prepared to collaborate with them”.
Within the continent, only Kenya and South Africa are part of the WHO-approved Solidarity clinical trial currently in progress.
Other countries undertaking either nutritional or medicinal clinical trials include Nigeria, Egypt and Zambia, but they are not WHO-approved.