Madagascar president continues to promote herbal tonic despite Covid-19 spike

Hospitals in Madagascar have been struggling to cope with a surge of Covid-19 cases despite the promotion of an unproven remedy the president says can cure the disease.

Cases have quadrupled in the past month with more than 13,000 infections and 162 deaths from coronavirus, which has spread to all but one of its 22 regions.

Last month, hospitals in the capital, Antananarivo, warned that they were running out of beds.

Last month, Health Minister Ahmad Ahmad appealed for international help to get equipment as he expressed his concern about the rapidly filling hospitals -but was reprimanded by the presidency.

Despite the spike, President Andry Rajoelina stands by the herbal concoction called Covid-Organics, which was launched to great fanfare in April.

It is produced by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research from the artemisia plant - the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment - and other Malagasy plants.

President Rajoelina has received worldwide attention for promoting the Covid-Organics drink. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against people using untested remedies like this, saying that Africans deserve access to medicines that have gone through proper trials even if they are derived from traditional treatments.

Earlier in the month the president was out again distributing the tonic, along with essentials such as rice, oil, sugar, to poor communities in the capital, Antananarivo.

He faced criticism for drawing crowds during a lockdown, but his attitude remained upbeat: "The epidemic won't last, it's only passing through and we will defeat it."