Madagascar has now received its first batch of World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccines for COVID-19, a 250,000-dose donation from India which is the home of the manufacture of AstraZeneca vaccines. India’s brand name for the vaccine is Covishield.
This comes after months of the Malagasy government dragging its feet in signing up to the COVAX program. COVAX is an international co-operative program whose mission is to ensure that low and middle-income countries are not left behind in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.
Madagascar has struggled to contain the virus’ spread ever since a much-touted local herbal cure promoted by President Andry Rajoelina, proved to be ineffective. A new wave may be due to the South African variant of COVID which has been reported in other southern African countries.
The country where the World Bank in 2019 estimated 75% of the people were living on less than $1.90 per day, can barely cope with the influx of infected person into hospitals. The capital, Antananarivo, which is also the most populated city, is the epicenter of the infection. Last week, President Rajoelina opened up in the worsening situation saying his country now has to find “a new strategy”.
Herbal cure fiasco
The way in which Madagascar has managed its portion of the global pandemic has been criticized both in Africa and beyond. In April last year, President Rajoelina launched a local herbal remedy he claimed can prevent and cure the coronavirus in seven days. The beverage, called COVID-Organics and developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA), contains Artemisia, a plant used to treat malaria.
When global health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged caution or expressed doubt about the efficacy of the drug, Rajoelina pushed back. At times, Rajoelina played it as a defender of Pan-African pride who was standing up against neocolonial indignation.
“I think the problem is that (the drink) comes from Africa and they can’t admit… that a country like Madagascar… has come up with this formula to save the world,” he told reporters in May 2020. Madagascar even treated to pull out of the WHO. A dozen other African countries including Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo bought COVID-Organics from Madagascar.