Coronavirus: What do we all know concerning the artemisia plant?

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By Peter Mwai
BBC Reality Check

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picture captionArtemisia has lengthy supplied a key ingredient in treating malaria
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Madagascar attracted a variety of consideration in April when the African island nation introduced it was utilizing an area plant to fight coronavirus.

A drink utilizing artemisia plant extracts was promoted by its chief, President Andry Rajoelina.

There’s no proof up to now that this plant – whose compounds do work in opposition to malaria – can fight Covid-19, based on the World Health Organization (WHO). 

So what do we all know concerning the plant and its properties?

Where does the plant come from?

Artemisia annua is initially from Asia, however grows in lots of different elements of the world with sunny and heat situations.

It’s been utilized in Chinese conventional drugs for greater than 2,000 years for treating a lot of ailments, together with malaria, in addition to to alleviate ache and fight fever. 

Rasamiharimanana Solofo, an agricultural engineer and researcher inspects plants of artemisia annua growing in greenhousespicture copyrightGetty Images
picture captionArtemisia vegetation being grown in Madagascar

In Chinese drugs, it is called “qinghao.”  

It can also be referred to as candy wormwood or annual wormwood, and is used as a substitute remedy – and even put into some alcoholic drinks.

Could artemisia work in opposition to Covid-19?

President Rajoelina of Madagascar stated in April this yr that trials carried out on the Covid-Organics drink – which makes use of artemisia – confirmed its effectiveness in opposition to the illness. He repeated this declare in September.

But no proof has been proven publicly for this.

And the precise composition of the drink just isn’t recognized, though the federal government says greater than 60% is derived from the artemisia plant.

Madagascar has additionally began producing capsules and an answer that may be injected, on which medical trials have already begun.

The President of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina attends a ceremony to launch "Covid Organics" or CVO, in Antananarivo, on 20 April 2020.picture copyrightGetty Images
picture captionMadagascar President Andry Rajoelina says the drink is efficient

German and Danish scientists have been testing extracts from artemisia annua vegetation, which they are saying confirmed some effectiveness in opposition to the brand new coronavirus in a laboratory setting.

The analysis – which hasn’t been independently reviewed by different scientists – discovered that these extracts confirmed anti-viral exercise when used with pure ethanol or distilled water.

These researchers are working with the University of Kentucky to hold out human medical trials at some stage.

China has been conducting its personal checks, primarily based on conventional medicines that use the artemisia annua plant.

And scientists in South Africa have been doing laboratory checks on artemisia annua and one other number of the plant – artemisia afra – for effectiveness in opposition to Covid-19. But there aren’t any outcomes as but.

What does the WHO say about artemisia?

The WHO says it hasn’t but had detailed details about the Madagascar checks.

Jean-Baptiste Nikiema of the WHO’s Africa area instructed the BBC the organisation could get entangled afterward in trials – relying on what info they get concerning the early trials.

At the second, the WHO says there isn’t a proof that artemisia-derived merchandise work in opposition to Covid-19.

It provides that each one medicinal vegetation “ought to be examined for efficacy and hostile side-effects” by rigorous medical trials.

How is it used in opposition to malaria?

The lively ingredient discovered within the dried leaves of artemisia annua is known as artemisinin, and it does work in opposition to malaria.

Chinese scientists pioneered the invention of its properties once they had been looking for a remedy for malaria within the 1970s.

media captionProfessor Lang Linfu

Artemisinin-based mixture therapies – recognized for brief as ACTs – are advisable by the WHO in opposition to malaria, particularly these sorts now proof against chloroquine, which is among the foremost drug therapies for the illness.

ACTs comprise derivatives of artemisinin mixed with different substances, and these scale back the variety of malaria parasites within the physique.

Increased entry to ACTs in malaria-endemic nations has been cited as a key consider serving to scale back the worldwide toll of the illness within the final 15 years.

What are the dangers of drug resistance?

Because artemisia annua extracts have began showing extra broadly as cures for malaria, comparable to in tea, there’s concern that unregulated utilization might enable the malaria parasite to develop resistance.

Lab technician in Burkina Faso studying malaria parasitepicture copyrightGetty Images
picture captionThe malaria parasite is exhibiting growing resistance to some medicine

There are a lot of nations in south-east Asia the place this resistance has already been noticed.

“We know that over time the [malaria] parasite will begin to withstand, however this time [period] must be so long as potential,” says Jean-Baptiste Nikiema of the WHO.

The WHO now discourages the usage of non-pharmaceutical types of artemisinin, involved that it might result in rising malarial resistance.

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