Remdesivir, and hope for a COVID-19 cure for Africa

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Remdesivir, the cure for COVID-19

By Ehichioya Ezomon

REMDESIVIR – the bandied “wonder” coronavirus remedy – has triggered a “price war” in the United States, with its ramifications for the global community, particularly Africa that’s at the bottom rung of medical care.

What does the evolving high-priced remdesivir hold for African countries that are begging for personal protection equipment (PPEs), testing kits to combat COVID-19, and soliciting debts forgiveness from global lenders?

Ezomon

Developed by Gilead to treat the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, remdesivir hasn’t passed the mustard of a “proper” drug, even as it has received authorisation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an emergency treatment in hospitals.

Yet, people are worried that when the drug hits the stores, it maybe out of the reach of those in need of cure from COVID-19 that has recorded over 3,800,000 cases and 271,000 deaths.

Their concern stems from Gilead’s history of “sky high drug pricing” of its products, especially on a hepatitis C drug “for which it charged $84,000” in 2015.

And for remdesivir, price speculators are betting on as low as $5,000 to as high as $10,000 for a full treatment. Though the firm is still to price the drug, it has to repay investors that funded the multi-billion dollar production, and make billions in profit for itself.

As reported by politico.com on Wednesday, May 6: “It’s not clear exactly how much the drug will cost. For context, one non-profit that evaluates drug costs says it costs about $9.32 to manufacture a 10-day course of remdesivir treatment for one patient.

“Calculating the cost of development and trials, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review says Gilead could charge as little as $390 for the drug. But Wall Street analysts are on an entirely different page, suggesting a price between $5,000 to $10,000, leading to billions in profits.”

Maybe as a bait for the drug pricing, “Gilead spent $2.45 million lobbying the Senate in the first quarter of 2020, more than it ever had before,” reports Open Secrets, and it’s given away “about 1.5 million doses….probably enough for about 140,000 patients.”

With reports of protests – and patients running from isolation centres – due to inadequate care and feeding by the authorities, how will African patients afford the most basic of cost of remdesivir put at $390 (N151,905)?

Madagascar cure versus remdesivir treatment

SO, what’s the plan for African countries to stem the rising cases of infection and death from coronavirus the World Health Organisation (WHO) projects could turn the continent into a new epicentre?

Enter the “Madagascar cure” – a herbal response to the coronavirus that several African leaders have reportedly committed to experimenting in their countries.

Nigeria, more endowed in natural resources in Africa, could and really should also lead in medicinal herbs; there are millions of alternative medicine shops, and thousands of certified herbal practitioners across the country.

Named “Covid Organics (CVO),” and developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, the concoction, which contains Artemisia (a plant on the Island used in the fight against malaria), has treated “92 of Madagascar’s 128 coronavirus patients, leaving 36 active cases and no death.”

Launching the herbal tea on Monday, April 20, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina claimed the compound was healing COVID-19 patients.

“All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19,” Rajoelina said.

While WHO and Madagascar’s national medical academy (Anamem) warned that “there is no proof of a cure for Covid-19,” and “no scientific evidence has been established that it (CVO) works,” Rajoelina has sold the remedy to African countries, and it’s resonating among the populations.

The social media is awash with commendation for Madagascar, for developing an “African home-grown cure,” and recommendation of the same “magic drug” to the continent’s other countries.

Nigeria, more endowed in natural resources in Africa, could and really should also lead in medicinal herbs; there are millions of alternative medicine shops, and thousands of certified herbal practitioners across the country.

A typical herbal mixture seller’s wares contain an average of 15 to 20 mixtures of extracts from plants and roots indigenous to many parts of Nigeria.

Practitioners, down the ages, have used these extracts to treat various ailments. This accounts for why many people have more faith in traditional than in orthodox medicine and treatment.

There was a mild drama in a Lagos suburb on Tuesday, May 5, when patrons haggling for a shot of a herbal mixture with a hawker, challenged the “efficacy” of “CVO.”

Querying in vernacular, “Ki ni ‘Madagalaska’ cure? Cure ko, cure ni,” (what is Madagascar cure all about), the hawker of herbal mixture in exasperation, wondered whether the hyped “cure” from the Southern African island nation could match any of her mixtures.

Her patrons all but testified to her rhetoric, “who says my medicines cannot treat any virus, including this ‘coro’ virus?”

This is the question the “yet-to-be-tested” Madagascar treatment for COVID-19 has stirred in Nigeria, and in other African countries.

Some Nigerians feel that the idea COVID-19 has no cure should be shelved and Madagascar congratulated “for getting a medicine for prevention and healing of COVID-19.”

Nigerian scientists should emulate the Madagascar example, as promised by Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, who has said that the government had not ruled out the possibility of using herbs to fight the COVID-19.

Ehanire told federal lawmakers at a briefing in Abuja, that those claiming to find cure should “subject it to test” by the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development.

He said: “We have to see of it (they) can kill the virus, and also to find out that, in the process of killing the virus, how it can affect the body.”

Nigerians are praying, hoping, and waiting!

Ezomon, journalist and media consultant, writes from Lagos, NigeriaTwitter: @EhichioyaEzomon WhatsApp: 08033078357.

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