President Andry Rajoelina attends a ceremony to launch Covid Organics in Antananarivo, on 20 April 2020. (Photo by RIJASOLO / AFP)

There is no evidence backing Madagascar’s claim that a homegrown herbal drink cures COVID-19

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A Facebook post shared thousands of times claims that Madagascar has found a herbal remedy that cures the novel coronavirus. To date, there is no evidence to prove that the controversial tonic produced in the island country has any impact on the virus.

“Of all big countries of the world, God decided to use Madagascar, a small Island to put a stop to global pandemic covid 19. They discovered Covid-Organics, a herb that cures corona virus (sic),” reads a Facebook post published on April 28, 2020, and shared more than 4,700 times.

A screenshot taken on July 28, 2020, showing the misleading Facebook post

The viral post also appears on Facebook here and here alongside a similar claim.

The posts emerged days after Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina unveiled Covid-Organics, a herbal tea derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven anti-malarial properties -- and other indigenous herbs that he claimed could prevent as well as cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

President Rajoelina attends a ceremony to launch Covid Organics in Antananarivo, on 20 April 2020. (Photo by RIJASOLO / AFP)

The tonic was developed by Madagascar’s state-run Malagasy Institute of Applied Research and also exported to other African countries, including Ghana and Nigeria.

Malagasy army soldiers distribute samples of Covid-Organics in Antananarivo, on April 22, 2020. (Photo by RIJASOLO / AFP)

But despite the drinks' widespread domestic distribution, Madagascar recorded at least 10,104 confirmed cases and 93 coronavirus-related deaths as of July 28, 2020. 

In fact, health workers in the capital Antananarivo have struggled to cope with a rush of coronavirus patients, as reported by AFP.

A patient seriously infected with COVID-19 is being treated by health workers at the Andohatapenaka University Hospital in Antananarivo on July 20, 2020. (Photo by RIJASOLO / AFP)

Not proven to treat COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly warned that there have been no published scientific studies to validate claims that the infusion is effective against COVID-19.

“We would caution and advise countries against adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy,” said the WHO’s Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti in a press briefing on May 7.

Dr Mary Stephen of WHO Africa told AFP Fact Check that no cure had yet been found for the highly infectious disease, but clinical trials were ongoing. 

The Nigerian government tested Covid-Organics and said the results had failed to show that the concoction was efficient against COVID-19. 

The country’s drug control agency found the drink “did not show any evidence that it has real curative properties against COVID-19,” Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said on July 23, 2020, in a widely reported announcement.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention -- a technical institution of the African Union -- said scientists from the continent were in talks with Madagascar to test the claims made about Covid-Organics.

“With respect to the Madagascar situation, we have formally reviewed what the government of Madagascar submitted,” Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said on July 23, 2020. “We’ve followed through with a note prepared to encourage that we agree on how to move forward with that, and we will be hopefully moving forward once the government of Madagascar reaches back to us.”

Misinformation has followed Rajoelina’s launch of the herbal drink.

AFP Fact Check recently debunked allegations that he had accused the WHO of offering a $20 million bribe to poison the infusion, and that US President Donald Trump had approved a $2.5 million fund for Madagascar to mass-produce the herbal remedy.