Madagascar 'anti-virus brews' sell like hot cakes in local markets

accreditation

Nirina Ravolona knows all the secrets to the natural brews she sells at Ambodivona market, and no-one doubts her when she touts an infallible cure for coronavirus.

"A mix of ginger, lemon and onion will give the virus a good hiding," Ravolona declared, bolstered by her 20 years of experience.

She recommends "spicy products" to boost the immune system and thus thwart the dreaded microbe.

The claim has no backing at all in medical science.

But there was no sign of scepticism among her customers in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo, where the 55-year-old is politely known as "Madame" Nirina.

"The Malagasy turn to household remedies every time there is an epidemic, it's our tradition," she said.

Coronavirus has infected more than half a million people around the world, killing at least 21 000 of them, since it was first detected in December.

In Madagascar, where there have been 19 detected cases, President Andry Rajoelina has imposed a lockdown on the country's two main cities.

But impoverished citizens have largely ignored orders to stay home.

For many, the need to provide for their families has trumped fears of catching the deadly respiratory disease.

Lemon and ginger rush

Ambodivona market bustled even more than usual this week as vendors latched onto the pandemic as a new business opportunity.

"After the president announced the first case of coronavirus, everyone rushed to buy lemon and ginger," said Olivier Toky Randrianandrianina, who usually only sells ginger.

"So I also ordered lemons from my suppliers," he explained, sitting behind a pile of citrus.

Randrianandrianina was right to branch out.

In just days, the price of lemons tripled from 54 cents to $1.59 per kilogram. Ginger prices have also jumped tenfold.

Ambodivona market,antivirus

Nirina Ravololona (2nd R), 55, sells ginger and lemon at the Ambodivona market in Antananarivo on 26 March, 2020. 

"If everybody is rushing to buy lemon, that must mean it works," said Gervais Ramiarinjatovo, who came to Ambodivona to stock up on the fruit.

For Randrianandrianina, the hype around so-called natural coronavirus remedies was just one sales opportunity like any other.

"It doesn't really interest me - all I am doing is selling my products," said the doubting 30-year-old.

"In any case, I don't really believe in this coronavirus," he added.

"It's an illness for Vazaha (Westerners) and the Chinese."

'Magic' leaves

A few stalls away, Gino Andosoa Rasolofonianina offered dried eucalyptus and ravitsara tree leaves, believed to carry medicinal properties.

"We saw Facebook posts explaining the virtues of these plants, so we thought it would be a good investment," he said.

The 28-year-old suavely detailed the recipe for his "magic" tree-leaf concoction.

"You bring water to a boil and drop in five leaves," he explained, as easily as if he were describing the latest smart phone.

"You can then let the vapour diffuse into your house or drink the water as if it were tea."

It would not cure coronavirus, he specified, but provide protection against it as an antiseptic.

Madagascar's president himself has encouraged the use of alternative remedies as a way of "strengthening the antibodies" to coronavirus.

"We will make patient inhale ravitsara essential oils and provide them with high-calorie foods... in conjunction with medicine," said Rajoelina in one of several televised speeches this week.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded a loud note of caution.

"The novel coronavirus is not a flu (and) ancient grand-mother remedies must be seen with doubt," said WHO country representative Charlotte Faty Ndiaye.

"To date there is no scientific study showing the effectiveness of any medicinal plant in Madagascar," she said.

"Given that there is no remedy to this epidemic, the Malagasy have nothing to loose," Nirina retorted.

"At worst they will waste money, and at best they immunise against the virus."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Matric results are out! Are you happy with your child's result?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
No, the pandemic really messed up their ability to focus
35% - 143 votes
Yes, they did well given the circumstances
65% - 269 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
15.10
+0.9%
Rand - Pound
20.46
+0.1%
Rand - Euro
17.13
+0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.85
-0.1%
Rand - Yen
0.13
+0.1%
Gold
1,834.71
0.0%
Silver
24.29
0.0%
Palladium
2,111.50
0.0%
Platinum
1,034.00
0.0%
Brent Crude
87.89
-0.6%
Top 40
68,186
-2.1%
All Share
74,835
-1.9%
Resource 10
74,924
-3.0%
Industrial 25
94,147
-1.8%
Financial 15
15,076
-0.2%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE