Covid-19: is there a Malagasy recipe?

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — When the coronavirus health crisis became a pandemic, hitting Europe with unexpected violence, many had worried thoughts for the African continent, as it seemed obvious that many countries would not be able to cope.

In an emergency, it was necessary to take at least three measures which we knew were almost impossible to apply: closing the borders, confining populations, treating the sick.

Border closures and containment

It turns out that Madagascar, although a very poor country, had several comparative advantages compared to most African states. First, it is an island, and even if the border closure was too late since more than 5,500 people returned from abroad (from Europe and Asia) when the epidemic was already declared, it was then relatively easy to stop all population movements by locking up airports and ports.

Elsewhere in Africa, it is much more difficult to isolate countries in such an airtight manner. Then it was enough – even if it was complicated – to identify and monitor the “contact cases” (63 had been identified) to hope if not to stop at least slow the spread of the virus.

It is too early to know if this strategy will have beneficial effects in the medium term, but the theater of operations was properly circumscribed, as always when the framework is insular.

Then the decision was made to confine the population, at least in the capital Antananarivo, where the application of this measure is obviously just as problematic as elsewhere in Africa since most of the needs of ultra-poor inhabitants are outside from home (water, food, money).

The Malagasy government, like many others on the continent, has therefore planned to distribute aid to the poorest in their places of life. But, there again, it benefited from favorable factors and, in particular, from a socio-political network of districts, inherited both from tradition and from its reactivation during the “communist” period of Ratsiraka: the fokontany and the fokonolona.

Originally, these were village communities with strong social cohesion, then transposed to urban areas. Thus, the fokontany chiefs and the fokonolona representatives were associated from the end of March 2020 in “Loharano committees” which were responsible for supervising and streamlining the distributions, while ensuring the least lax application of containment possible.

This method of population control was probably not as effective as in China, and it inevitably gave rise to criticism because its operation was not free from corruption and cronyism, but the authorities were able rely on relays still relatively respected, while

The benefits of endemic flora

Finally, and it is well known, Madagascar benefits from an endemic flora that national and international researchers have long explored to find curative principles . During the colonial period, the periwinkle of Madagascar was already credited with virtues against cancer.

Then, in the 1990s, the Madagascan Institute of Applied Research of the famous professor Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga (1907-2001) developed medicines based on local plants, the most emblematic of which is Madecassol, a healing product made from the Centella asiatica plant .

Faced with the coronavirus, there was therefore great hope of finding a miracle drug in the local pharmacopoeia, especially since there are modern laboratories on site which are already working, without making any noise, on the production of remedies from plants. harvested or cultivated on the Big Island.

Among these, there is a variety of sagebrush ( Artemisia) which, of course, is not endemic to Madagascar but which has attracted enough attention for its culture to be widely encouraged in the country. In fact, sagebrush is at the origin of artemisinin, which was (re) discovered in the 1970s a certain effectiveness against malaria attacks.

Currently in Madagascar a documentary is circulating which recalls that, during the Vietnam War, the Chinese helped the Vietnamese to protect themselves and to cure themselves from malaria with artemisinin, while the Americans obtained less good results with chloroquine.

Another medicinal plant acclimatized to Madagascar and cultivated on a large scale has been invited in the researchers’ hypotheses: the ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora), a species of camphor tree whose virtues have been known for a long time but which we now offer d” combine with Artemisia annua to form a drug against coronavirus. This treatment, called Covid Organics, has been distributed massively throughout the country since April 20, 2020.

Naturally, one can doubt the credibility of such a health campaign, in particular by noting that Wikipedia withdrew the file from the Covid Organics on April 19, 2020, and by reading the press release from the Madagascan Academy of Medicine which recalled on April 22 that this medicine was just a herbal tea. But, in his speech to the Nation on April 19, President Andry Rajoelina had apparently anticipated this crack by asking his compatriots to keep the Faith. And we know how heavy the churches weigh in the Malagasy socio-political context.

Deconfinement dictated by economic imperatives

However, in Madagascar (and perhaps more than elsewhere), the balance between the health battle and the economic battle is difficult to find. It is because the country is very poor that it seeks inexpensive medical solutions.

At the same time, its level of poverty does not allow its economy to stop for too long. It will therefore have to be quickly deconfigured and, since the country had registered only 121 cases and 0 deaths (as of April 20), the government has taken bold measures to restart the machine at the end of April 2020.

Departments and businesses will resume their activities, including restaurants which may open at noon. Worker protection measures must be strictly applied everywhere, including the wearing of a mask. In schools, exam classes will reopen, with one student per bench. Masks and Covid Organics will be distributed free of charge to all. Public transport can restart, with passengers in limited numbers and masked.

This fairly large relaxation in the initial containment strategy may seem worrying.

This is probably the illustration of a strong doubt on the feasibility of the method, and on the effectiveness of the supervision of the populations. But it is also a gamble, that of adapting to the situation, knowing that Madagascar retains two other strings to its bow, linked to its island nature: it protects itself better than the others against contamination from elsewhere, and it has a multitude of medicinal plants which, if they are not all endemic, have always been the subject of great attention. Not always scientific enough, perhaps, but carrying hope.

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