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Could this plant be a covid cure?

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Only six percent of Africans are vaccinated against covid-19 according to WHO and only five African countries will reach the goal of vaccinating 4 out of 10 by the end of the year. Is it time to take alternative treatments for covid-19 more seriously?

In European countries and in the United States, the coronavirus vaccination rate is currently above 50 and 60 percent, while on the African continent, 6.5 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated according to the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa CDC. In Niger, Chad, and DR Congo less than 3 percent of the population is fully covered.

While this points at an overwhelming global inequality in vaccine distribution and vaccine hoarding by rich countries, it also raises questions about whether there are other ways for Africans to protect themselves against covid-19. What if an alternative cure for covid-19 is around the corner?

For the past year, several studies have pointed at the effect of the Artemisia annua plant in the treatment of covid-19 infections. Artemisia annua grows naturally in many African countries and is traditionally used as a cure for malaria, its leaves are boiled into a tea. Among the plant’s bioactive ingredients is artemisinin which is used in antimalarial drugs produced and sold widely today.

First study to show potential of artemisinin

In July, researchers from universities in Denmark and Germany found that Artemisia annua extracts as well as artemisinin effectively hinder covid-19 infection in human cells. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is the first to show that artemisinin is efficient in combatting two different covid-19 strains in human cells when analyzed in a laboratory.

This is just one of a series of studies that have demonstrated the ability of artemisia extracts or compounds to combat coronavirus since last year.

“If you have people who are refusing a vaccine, this could be an alternative. You should use both vaccine and therapeutics, but with a lot of Artemisia, countries can protect their population.”

– Pamela Weathers, Professor and expert on Artemisia annua

A study published in September on the preprint server bioRxiv concludes that hot water mixed with dried Artemisia annua leaves prevented the growth of coronavirus in laboratory tests. The researchers write that Artemisia annua tea infusions could “provide a cost-effective therapy to help stave off the rapid global spread of these variants, buying time for broader implementation of vaccines.”

Although the study is not yet peer-reviewed and therefore should not be a guide for us to suddenly drink Artemisia infused teas, the results are promising. Earlier this year, one of the authors of the study, Pamela Weathers told African Ringer that Artemisia annua could be an alternative to vaccines.

“If you have people who are refusing a vaccine, this could be an alternative. You should use both vaccine and therapeutics, but with a lot of Artemisia, countries can protect their population,” said Weathers.

Clinical trials

There is still no approved cure for coronavirus once you have become infected and this is where Artemisia annua could play a key role, the researcher argues.

“You need to have different tools against coronavirus. At the moment, there are no good therapeutics that can kill the virus and treat you after you get the disease,” Pamela Weathers said.

Now it is up to clinical trials to determine whether Artemisia annua will be recommended as a treatment for covid patients. In August, WHO announced that it would begin to test the malaria drug Artesunate – which is a derivative of artemisinin – on hospitalized covid patients.

So far, WHO has reiterated that there is no evidence that the Artemisia plant can treat covid-19. The global health body also cautions against using Artemisia in teas or herb blends because there is growing resistance to the plant in malaria-prone areas.