Covid-19: What if Madagascar is RIGHT?
The world has been in turmoil since the end of 2019. The wishes of happiness and health that we formulated for each other at the beginning of the Year “2020” seem to be turning to despair, to disillusionment. In 6 months, the terms “coronavirus” and “quarantine” are among the most used words in the world. Why all this? Because of a pandemic known as “the COVID-19 pandemic” which does not seem to have said its last word. Cases of infection are increasing day by day, revealing the weakness and fragility of health systems around the world. This pandemic has had such an impact on the world that it has led to the closure of places of worship (churches, temples, mosques, etc.), places that are seldom empty under normal circumstances. Clearly, in the face of Covid-19, doctors and medical scientists have emerged and are perceived as the real heroes of our societies and very quickly in the collective consciousness, religious explanations have given way to scientific reasoning. But, what science are we talking about? The EUROPEAN SCIENCE of course, which, despite its unrivalled laboratories, seems to be overwhelmed by the search for a cure. In this world tumult, an African voice was raised, that of MADAGASCAR who, like John the Baptist in the desert, announced the salvation of humanity by the arrival of his miracle product: the COVID Organics. Irony of fate, isn’t it? There comes the question: When it comes to medical discoveries, does Africa have a say wherein the “Great Powers” have not flinched? Let’s not be distracted by disordered questioning. Let’s cool it down and start from the beginning.
COVID- 19, what are we referring to?
According to the World Health Organization (2020), Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow). However, one can protect oneself and others from infection by washing one’s hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching one’s face.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation on Thursday, 23 April 2020. Picture: GCIS
The pandemic started in a “wet market” in Wuhan/China, and is making its way around the globe with new cases being recorded every day. Official statistics show that more than 3 million people have been affected by the disease to date. If the African continent was primarily spared by the disease, this is no longer the case. The number of cases have worrisomely risen. The causal scenario remains that the disease spread through people who came to Africa from Europe and Asia. As a result, the disease has left an imprint on almost all African countries as death cases are being reported on a daily basis.
What is the inventory?
The Covid-19 crisis has put all medical entities around the world to the test and Africa is no exception to that. African researchers (traditional and modern) have spared no effort to bring out the heavy artillery against this virus that is plaguing the world. But the banalest question anybody will be tempted to ask is the following: Does Africa have the material, financial, human and logistical resources to deal with a pandemic like COVID 19? The vast majority of analysts, if not all, agree that the answer to this question is a big “NO”. Indeed, Africa has always been known and portrayed by the western media as the needy “dark continent” characterized by primaeval irrationality, tribal anarchy, civil war, political instability, flagrant corruption, incompetent leadership and managerial ineptitude, hunger, famine and starvation as well as rampant diseases (Michira, 2002). This negative image of the continent nourished with the phenomena of illegal migration, constitutional tinkering, female genital mutilation (FGM), etc., continue to legitimize this European narrative about the continent. Statistics have it that scientific research is underfunded in Africa and that explains why Africans are underrepresented in the world’s major scientific decision-making bodies. Ramsay cited by Okeke et al., (2017) observes that “overall, the underrepresentation of scientists in low-income countries, particularly those in Africa, is a principal contributor to the “10/90 gap,” in which only an estimated 10% of the funding for global health research is used to address the health problems of 90% of the world’s poorest people”.
Source: (WHO, 2019): This map shows that richer countries spend more on health.
However, despite her low financial and human resources (specialised medical personnel), Africa has not lacked imagination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. This is justified by the meteoric rise of Madagascar, which offers his herbal tea ‘COVID Organics’ as a preventive and curative measure against the pandemic. The announcement of this African medical discovery sounded like a machete blow in the back of some Western scientists and the WHO which hastened to reject the Malagasy product.
But let’s forget the “somehow” populistic resonance (according to some observers) that goes with the announcement made by the Malagasy President to imagine for a moment that Madagascar was right. What does that imply?
1. At the national level:
- Renewal of trust in politics:
Everybody agrees that President Andry Rajoelina showed swiftness and leadership in managing the health crisis in his country. This attitude can be interpreted as the affirmation of the political will to fight general panic in this time of health crisis. The communication of the Malagasy President around this disease activated the country’s health services and population around a general awareness, which has allowed to control the chain of propagation of the disease to the point of having 0 deaths to date. The success of COVID Organics could generate a renewal of confidence between populations and politicians beyond this crisis.
- Local job creation:
This feat of Madagascar will certainly lead to a massive creation of jobs in the country in the medical research sector and especially in pharmaceutical production. It is important to note that the pharmaceutical industry employs approximately 4.4 million people worldwide. Latin America, Africa, and Oceania, employ about 420,000 people in all. (Ostwald, Zubrzycki and Knippel, 2015)
2. At the continental level:
- Change in self-perception:
Africa is a continent with a majority illiterate population. One of the most widespread beliefs is that many Africans think that the world is the way it is only because the West wants it like that. Many no longer believe in themselves, because in the collective consciousness “Emotion is negro. Reasoning is Hellenic” to quote Senghor. So, this feat of Madagascar sounds like a wake-up call to the African pride to change that perception. It is a signal to the whole continent that pan-Africanism is fighting the right fight. If the Malagasy COVID Organics trials prove to be effective, the African will have once more understood that there is room for hope and Africa can always imprint her mark to the great book of human history.
- Challenging the concept of “vaccination” in Africa:
The coronavirus pandemic has rekindled criticism of Africa’s often controversial vaccination campaigns. One of the striking examples that is important to remember is the lomidine vaccination during the colonial era that caused the deaths of many Africans. The Lomidine Files recounts incidents in which the immunization process caused multiple fatalities. On November 12, 1954, for instance, a vaccination team near Yokadouma, a town in eastern Cameroon, injected over five hundred people. Of these, more than 300 soon experienced gas gangrene that began in the muscles of their buttocks, where the drug had been injected. Thirty-two swiftly died. (Newman, 2018).
Vaccination of lomidine in Colonial Africa. Source: (gemonu.com, 2020)
The intriguing recent communication by Dr Camille Locht about the possibility of using Africa as a clinical trial site for the coronavirus vaccine has awakened spirits in Africa and aroused general indignation, reminding us of the failure of lomidine in colonial Africa. The possible post-COVID-19 scenario is the strengthening of control measures around vaccines sent to Africa.
Source: Youtube, 2020
- A new dawn towards a consolidation of indigenous knowledge:
The indigenous African medicine sector is well concerned by this health crisis to the point of being challenged. This crisis has revealed the lack of promotion and continental coordination around indigenous medical knowledge. However, this has not prevented African doctors and traditional practitioners from working hard to find a solution. Products such as apivirin from Benin and fadafinadjigui from Guinea continue to be tested as a cure for coronavirus. The rise of Madagascar during this crisis has given credit to indigenous knowledge and the success of COVID Organics will certainly lead to a consolidation of indigenous knowledge to complement the efforts made in modern medicine.
3. At the global level:
- A major blow against racism:
The success of the Malagasy COVID Organics will undoubtedly reinvent the image of the black in the world, which is often discriminated against because of its colour. This success would clarify Wole Soyinka’s statement: “Tiger does not proclaim her tigritude, he pounces’ ‘. Africa will have imposed herself to the world, not through vague praises of her skin colour but her scientific imagination. Consequently, the pan-Africanist movements will be boosted in their struggle and the fight against colonial ties such as the CFA franc will be more justified than ever.
- Writing a page in the New World Order:
Critical observation shows that the COVID 19 crisis hints at a redefinition of international geopolitics characterised by the emergence of new players. The success of Madagascar’s COVID Organics could put Africa in the spotlight in the high scientific decision-making bodies. Thus Africa will now be able to have a say in the sphere of the big medical players.
At the end of the day, Africa is not the ultimate hotspot of everything that goes wrong.
Every African should be proud of Madagascar for showing the way in this time of adversity. Instead of trying to justify whether they are right or not, we (as Africans) ,beyond the political discourse, should be able to decode the latent message that Madagascar passed on through his communication around COVID Organics: the message of an Africa that can take responsibility for herself and is ready for continental solidarity to the detriment of negative narrative from others. After this crisis, African leaders should make the education of their people a priority. They should invest heavily in scientific research and encourage collaboration between traditional and modern medicine. Like the writer Jean Pliya, I believe that “we must retain from tradition only what allows us to keep pace in today’s world”. Therefore all Africans must stand up as one to accompany their States and entrepreneurs in promoting the “made in Africa” brand.
Africanews. 2020. Madagascar Starts COVID-Organics Clinical Trials, Factory To Be Built | Africanews. [online] Available at: <https://www.africanews.com/2020/05/04/madagascar-starts-covid-organics-clinical-trials-factory-to-be-built//> [Accessed 3 May 2020].
BBC News. 2020. Caution Urged Over Madagascar Coronavirus ‘Cure’. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52374250> [Accessed 3 May 2020].
Michira, J., 2002. Images Of Africa In The Western Media. [online] Web.mnstate.edu. Available at: <http://web.mnstate.edu/robertsb/313/images_of_africa_michira.pdf> [Accessed 2 May 2020].
Newman, S., 2018. The Hidden History Of Lomidine – Hektoen International. [online] Hekint.org. Available at: <https://hekint.org/2018/03/20/hidden-history-lomidine/> [Accessed 1 May 2020].
Okeke, I., Babalola, C., Byarugaba, D., Djimde, A. and Osoniyi, O., 2017. Broadening Participation In The Sciences Within And From Africa: Purpose, Challenges, And Prospects. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5459259/> [Accessed 1 May 2020].
Ostwald, D., Zubrzycki, K. and Knippel, W., 2015. THE ECONOMIC FOOTPRINT OF THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY. [online] I fpma.org. Available at: <https://www.ifpma.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/wifor_key_findings_2015_web.pdf> [Accessed 1 May 2020].
Who.int. 2019. Global Spending On Health: A World In Transition. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/health_financing/documents/health-expenditure-report-2019.pdf?ua=1> [Accessed 4 May 2020].