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Herbal medicine for COVID-19

Scientific studies underway

The potential benefits of artemisia annua for treating COVID-19 remain unclear.

Madagascar has previously marketed its plants by touting their curative or preventive capacity. During the H1N1 virus pandemic in 2009, it marketed Ravensara which is manufactured by IMRA under the brand name ATA. It became commercial success. Even under the COVID-19 pandemic, Ravensara is selling quite well globally.

“In Madagascar and abroad, its price has tripled or quadrupled,” said the president of Madagascar’s Essential Oil Exporters Union, Olivier Rakotoson Rakotoson.

Jean-Claude Ratsimivony, CEO of JCR group, which manufactures an antiviral ointment under the name Fosa, says ravensara “is one of the most powerful antiviral plants grown in Madagascar”.

But Rakotoson cautions that “whatever the plant, we need more precise data before we can say that it’s effective against COVID-19”.

“And even if the results are good, we still have to determine if the virus has been killed because the substance has boosted the immune system’s defences or if it acts directly on the virus,” he said.

It is easy to see why claims of remedies for COVID-19 are sprouting. The disease causes illness similar to effects of the common cold. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some of these resolve themselves, according to medical experts, and less than 20% of infected persons require hospitalisation.

In a few cases, about 2% according to experts, COVID-19 may cause pneumonia, organ failure, and death. For this, there is currently no known vaccine or specific medicine to treat.

Many substances are under scrutiny, including the malaria prevention and treatment hydroxychloroquine alone or in combination with azithromycin (which is used to treat a wide variety of bacterial infections), Kaletra (an antiretroviral therapy) and remdesivir (a broad-spectrum antiviral medication).

But many experts say there is no evidence to suggest that essential oils can treat or cure flu symptoms or those of other viruses, including coronaviruses. They also will not prevent a virus infection from becoming more severe.

According to an expert opinion article in `Medical News Today’, some people with mild symptoms may find that essential oils help them feel better. That has not stopped manufacturers of some concoctions from claiming to treat COVID-19.

A report from Madagascar said President Rajoelina announced both clinical and laboratory trials. Another report said the renowned Max Planck Institute in Germany, which has received 18 Nobel prizes since 1948 and publishes 15,000 papers each year, launched an in vitro trial of Artemisia annua against coronavirus on 8 April, in collaboration with the U.S. company ArtemiLife and Danish researchers.

“I am excited about the international collaboration of academic and private sector scientists to conduct cell study testing of Artemisia annua against coronavirus.” said Prof. Peter H. Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam.

In a press release, the research institute explained that studies have shown artemisia annua to be somewhat effective against a virus similar to the novel coronavirus.

The report quotes Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist and former department head at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France saying: “The fact that artemisia has effects on viruses similar to the novel coronavirus makes a strong case for initiating studies. However, in vitro data is needed before data can be obtained using actual patients, otherwise, we obviously have no proof that artemisia is effective against the coronavirus.”

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