The president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, is sending a plane to Madagascar to fetch a herbal tonic touted as a cure for COVID-19 even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned there was no proof of any cure, reports BBC News. The WHO also advised people against self-medicating Congo-Brazzaville's president has also promised to import the drink.
The report says it is produced from the artemisia plant – the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment. The drink was launched as COVID-Organics and was being marketed after being tested on fewer than 20 people over a period of three weeks, the Tanzanian president's chief of staff Lova Hasinirina Ranoromaro is quoted in the report as saying.
In response to the launch of COVID-Organics, the WHO said that the global organisation did not recommend "self-medication with any medicines… as a prevention or cure for COVID-19". It reiterated earlier comments by WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that there were "no short-cuts" to finding effective mediation to fight coronarvirus. International trials were under way to find an effective treatment, the WHO added.
The report says in March, the US-based National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health warned against purported coronavirus remedies, including herbal therapies and teas – saying the best way to prevent infection was to avoid exposure to the virus.
The report says the drink has been picked up in other African countries. On Saturday Madagascar delivered a shipment to Guinea-Bissau. The Malagasy president also tweeted that the special envoy to Equatorial Guinea picked up a shipment of the drink.
Meanwhile, coronavirus test kits used in Tanzania were dismissed as faulty by Magufuli, because he said they had returned positive results on samples taken from a goat and a pawpaw. Reuters Health reports that Magufuli, whose government has already drawn criticism for being secretive about the coronavirus outbreak and has previously asked Tanzanians to pray the coronavirus away, said the kits had “technical errors”.
As of Sunday, Tanzania had recorded 480 cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths but unlike most other African countries, Dar es Salaam sometimes goes for days without offering updates, with the last bulletin on cases on Wednesday.
The report says COVID-19 infections and fatalities reported across Africa have been relatively low compared with the US, parts of Asia and Europe. But Africa also has extremely low levels of testing, with rates of only around 500m people.
Tanzania has suspended the head of its national health laboratory in charge of coronavirus testing, a day after Magufuli questioned the accuracy of the tests. Polity reports that he has cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the pandemic. The president called for an investigation in what he suspected is a "dirty game" in the laboratory, but did not say where the kits had been imported from.
Catherine Sungura, acting head of communications at the ministry of health, said the director of the laboratory and its quality assurance manager had been immediately suspended "to pave way for the investigation". Sungura said a 10-person committee had been formed to investigate the laboratory's operations, including its process of collecting and testing samples.
The report says Magufuli has also fired the head of the government Medical Stores Department, which is in charge of distributing medical supplies and equipment to government hospitals, but gave no reason.
The opposition has accused the government of hiding information and failing to take the disease seriously. Schools and universities have been shut but markets, bus stops and shops bustle as usual, with Magufuli urging citizens to continue working hard and not stop going to church or mosquesFull BBC News report Full Reuters Health report Full Polity report