Coronavirus: Here comes ‘Madagascar cure’, By Ehichioya Ezomon – Remdesivir – the bandied “wonder” coronavirus remedy – has triggered a “price war” in the United States, with its potential ramifications for the global community, particularly Africa that’s at the bottom rung of medical care.
Developed by Gilead to treat the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), remdesivir hasn’t passed the mustard of a “proper” drug, even as it has received authorisation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an emergency treatment in hospitals.
Yet, people are worried that when the drug hits the shelves, it maybe out of the reach of those in need of cure from COVID-19 that has recorded over 3,800,000 cases and 271,000 deaths.
Their concern stems from Gilead’s history of “sky high drug pricing” of its products, especially on a hepatitis C drug “for which it charged $84,000” in 2015.
And for remdesivir, price speculators are betting on as low as $5,000 to as high as $10,000 for a full treatment. Though the firm is still to price the drug, it has to repay investors that funded the multi-billion dollar production, and make billions in profit for itself.
As reported by politico.com on Wednesday, May 6: “It’s not clear exactly how much the drug will cost. For context, one non-profit that evaluates drug costs says it costs about $9.32 to manufacture a 10-day course of remdesivir treatment for one patient.
“Calculating the cost of development and trials, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review says Gilead could charge as little as $390 for the drug. But Wall Street analysts are on an entirely different page, suggesting a price between $5,000 to $10,000, leading to billions in profits.”
Maybe as a bait for the drug pricing, “Gilead spent $2.45 million lobbying the Senate in the first quarter of 2020, more than it ever had before,” reports Open Secrets, and it’s given away “about 1.5 million doses,… probably enough for about 140,000 patients.”
What does high-priced remdesivir hold for African countries that are begging for equipment, kits and drugs to combat COVID-19, and soliciting debts forgiveness from global lenders?
With reports of protests – and patients running from isolation centres – due to inadequate care and feeding by the authorities, how will African patients afford the most basic of cost of remdesivir put at $390 (N151,905)?
So, what’s African countries’ plans to stem the rising cases of infection and death from coronavirus the World Health Organisation (WHO) says could turn the continent into its new epicentre?
Enter the “Madagascar cure” – a herbal response to the coronavirus that several African leaders have reportedly committed to experimenting in their countries.
Named “Covid Organics (CVO),” and developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, the concoction, which contains Artemisia (a plant on the Island used in the fight against malaria), has treated “92 of Madagascar’s 128 coronavirus patients, leaving 36 active cases and no death.”
Launching the herbal tea on Monday, April 20, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina claimed the compound was “curing COVID-19 patients.”
“All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19,” Rajoelina said.
While the WHO and Madagascar’s national medical academy (Anamem) warned that “there is no proof of a cure for Covid-19,” and “no scientific evidence has been established that it (CVO) works,” President Rajoelina has sold the remedy to African countries, and it’s resonating among the populations.
The social media is awash with commendation for Madagascar, for developing an “African home-grown cure,” and recommendation of the same “magic drug” to the continent’s other countries.
There’s a mild drama in a Lagos suburb on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, as a herbal mixture seller challenged a patron, who touted the “efficacy” of “CVO”, as he haggled for a shot of her concoction.
She let out a long hiss, and queried: “Ki ni ‘Madagalaska’ cure? Cure ko, cure ni,” as she smacked down her right thigh after taking in her wares in a cyclical motion of the hand.
Her exasperation was translated as querying whether the hyped “cure” from the Southern African island nation could match any of the mixtures she offered to her clientele!
Nigeria, more endowed in natural resources in Africa, should also lead in medicinal herbs, as evidenced in millions of shops, and thousands of herbal practitioners across the country.
For instance, a herbal mixture seller’s wares contain an average of 15 to 20 mixtures of extracts from plants and roots indigenous to many parts of Nigeria.
Practitioners, down the ages, have used these extracts to treat various ailments. This accounts for why many people have more faith in traditional than in orthodox medicine and treatment.
The more reason the herbal seller was enraged as, in her words, the “offending” patron had repeatedly testified to the “efficacy of my medicines” to treat or alleviate sicknesses. “And who says my medicines cannot treat any virus, including this ‘coro’ virus?”
The man affirmed her “testimonial,” said he’s joking, apologised for his “indiscretion,” and asked: “What am I looking for in the ‘Madagascar cure’ that I cannot find in double or triple quality in your ‘original’ mixtures?”
That assurance doused the lady’s temper. Both soon engaged in banters, while she measured out some yellow and green liquids from different plastic bottles, poured the mixture into a small white polythene pack, tied and handed it over to him.
This anecdote summarises the yearning the “yet-to-be-tested” and “unavailable” Madagascar treatment for COVID-19 has stirred in Nigeria, and in other African countries, in the past week.
One Chief Jimoh (+2348085792484) sent this text message: “Chief Crusader, Sir, Crusader Team, all Nigerians and all Africans, in unity, should congratulate Madagascar for getting medicine for prevention and healing of COVID-19. Enough of COVID-19 has no cure!”
Over to Nigerian scientists, to emulate the Madagascar example, as promised by Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, who, on Tuesday, May 5, said the government had not ruled out the possibility of using local herbs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Ehanire, at a briefing of the House of Representatives in Abuja, said those claiming to find cure should “subject it to test” by the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development.
“We have to test the efficacy of local drugs, to see of it (they) can kill the virus, and also to find out that, in the process of killing the virus, it can affect the body,” he said. “So, the Institute will carry out the required test on the local drugs, to find out how it can work.”
Nigerians are praying, hoping, and waiting!
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.