By Hwaa Irfan
As we see the rich hold not only the government to ransom, but the not so rich American public by forcing almost a shutdown in government, and getting away with paying less taxes, those rich who have profiteered from producing anti-malarial drugs have been sitting comfortably too without a conscience. As the battle against malaria continues especially as the global climate heats up, it is nature that comes to the rescue once again despite man’s faults.
As the malaria parasite develops increasing resistance to man-made attempts to combat/profit from the disease, it is the ‘unscientifically’ proven herb Sweet Wormwood (Artemisia annua) used in traditional African medicine to combat malaria that presents an alternative to the solution of the Chinchona Tree, the only source of Quinine.
When one thinks of malaria, one automatically thinks of hot climates, but as the climate change continues and increasingly more and more countries in the Northern Hemisphere become exposed to similar climatic conditions, so too is the increased risk of contracting illnesses that one would normally subscribe to the Southern Hemisphere. That change takes place at a time when Western orthodox medicine faces the challenge to the drugs that it employs.
Low cost multi-drug resistant malaria is considered to be one of the main contributory factors by researchers for the annual death toll of 515 million people, and in places like Tanzania, East Africa that annual death toll is 125,000 out of 14-18 million people who contract malaria-related diseases. One such drug is Coartem produced by the multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis. Coartem is an artemisinin-based drug that was complicit in the death of Bahati, a Tanzanian woman. Culturl anthropologist Caroline Meier zu Biesen learnt of her death from her husband. After being tested positively for malaria, Bahati received a prescription for 24 Coartem tablets to be taken over three days. Bahati never completed the three days, after the first does problems began. In the words of her husband Jonasi:
“My wife started to sweat, she felt miserable and expressed doubts (mashaka) on this medicine… she thought her body would need time to get used to the new drug. But after having taken another four tablets, Bahati complained about palpitation, she had chills (kitapo) and her skin started to itch strongly (ngozi yake ilianza kuwasha sana). My wife´s started to develop blisters (ngozi yake ilianza kutoa malenge lenge) and it felt like burning fire (ngozi yake ilihisi kama ime chomwa na moto). When she started to scratch her skin, it began to peel off (ngozi yake ilianza kubabuka), first on the scalp (ngozi ya kichwa) and then on the entire body. Whenever my wife tried to move in her bed, the skin would stick to her kanga9 and peel off, causing her terrible pain.”
There is a history within Western medicine, which upon extracting particular compounds in order to formulate a new drug, there is a lack of appreciation for the reality of that compound being most effective when taken within the supportive and balancing context from which that compound originated – that is the wisdom of Allah’s Medicine Chest. However, the plan material used to supply artemisinin in the making of Coartem was a mass cultivation of Artemsia annua raised on Novartis insecticide the crop of which is expected to grow on commercial demand.
Sweet Wormwood or Sagewort is one of 180 species of the Compositae family of the plant kingdom. Known for its bitterness it has been recently commercialized as a tincture in South Africa for its aromatic and antibacterial properties, anti-malarial properties, for checking fevers and fro checking blood loss. However, Artemsia annua is native to China, and has a history in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Known as dawa ya kienyeji in Swahili, the leaves have been used as an antiseptic, a digestive, a febrifuge in the treatment of colds, diarrhoea, and fevers. The identified chemical compound artemisinin had already proven to be the bioactive ingredient effective in cases of the multi-drug resistant Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria causing parasite.
At the Instituto Nacional de Saúde Dept. de Medicina Tradicional, Mozambique fansidar/Quinine was compared to Artemsia annua in the treatment of malaria. In the case of Artemsia annua, a standard treatment was applied meaning 7 days of an infusion Artemsia annua i.e. a tea, totalling 1 liter. Fansidar/Quinine was used as a control. The patients age 16 – 60 who had mild malaria were given the tea, and they were tested for the presence of the malaria parasite. Findings included:
- Malarial symptoms declined at the same rate
- The parasites decreased faster with Fansidar/Quinine
- Efficiency of Artemsia annua was rated at 90% and that of Fansidar/Quinine, 98%
- The kidneys were able to eliminate Artemsia annua more easily than Fansidar/Quinine with which there were more side effects after treatment
To add to the long line of scientific research on Artemisia annua/Sweet Wormwood researchers at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences near Oslo have been exploring its efficacy in the treatment of malaria as an alternative to conventional medicines. Looking at the plant extract used in traditional African medicine they are also exploring the role of the synergy of compounds within the plant. From the team Dr. Stangeland commented to Science Daily
“The fact that both the sweet wormwood plant (Artemisia annua) and the bark of the cinchona tree have been used for centuries against malaria — and the parasite has yet to become resistant — indicates some support for this theory.”
With their good intentions intact:
“If we can find plants that prove effective against malaria,” says Dr Stangeland, “we hope that African authorities and countries will register the tested medicines and produce them themselves.”
With that in mind, it might be more efficient to link up with the work that is already being done in Africa itself!