In the early days of Covid-19, people from Zimbabwe to Tanzania turned to home remedies for a disease little was known about. But now, even as African countries begin implementing vaccination programs, many could still stick to traditional treatments.

Midst a serious increase in casesAfter people traveled from South Africa over the Christmas season, where a new variant spread, Zimbabwe began vaccinating for health care workers and frontline workers last weekwith around 200,000 donated cans from China’s Sinopharm shot. Ghana meanwhile received the first doses of vaccine from Covax, the initiative to help low and middle income countries get Covid-19 vaccines.

But between the fear of the new vaccine and the scarcity of supply across the continent, interviews in Zimbabwe suggest that many still plan – and perhaps have to – rely on herbal treatments.

Itai Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, a network of community-level organizations, says it is customary in the country to first consult traditional healers or use home remedies to treat common illnesses before turning to modern medical ones in particular Utility services apply to those in rural areas who live far from medical health facilities.

“This was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as the majority of people in Zimbabwe appear to have more faith in home remedies to prevent and treat diseases related to Covid-19 due to disinformation and skepticism about vaccines,” said Rusike. This was a view that quartz was also expressed by other health professionals as well as ordinary citizens.

That preference was also shaped by government support for herbal treatments as a form of Covid-19 treatment in the first few months of the pandemic last year, a move that doctors criticized and that may now hamper vaccination efforts.

Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo

A nurse prepares to vaccinate Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as the country begins vaccinating against Covid-19 on February 18.

A boost for Covid-19 home remedies from governments

Zimbabwe was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. A frayed health system suffered from a lack of medication and protective equipment when it first died of Covid-19 in March last year.

In April 2020 the Zimbabwean government authorized traditional herbalist Treating Covid-19 with herbs as an alternative to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on respiratory disease, which not much was known about at the time.

Zimbabwe wasn’t alone: ​​other African nations like Madagascar and Tanzania approved and encouraged the use of home remedies to cure Covid-19 without research.

In April 2020, Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina launched an herbal tea that was marketed in bottles. According to the Madagascan Institute of Applied Research that developed the drink, the herbal remedy is primarily made from Artemisia, a plant with proven effectiveness against malaria. Tanzania’s President John Magufuli who was quick Declare the country Covid-19 free last June also ordered a shipment of the Malagasy herbal medicine used to treat last year’s respiratory disease.

In Zimbabwe, the number of vendors packing Zumbani tea leaves for sale in cities to treat symptoms related to Covid-19 has increased. The woody shrub is scientifically known as Lippia javanica, part of the verbena family, and is widely used for fever and flu.

The Africa University in eastern Zimbabwe is currently developing cough drops from the Zumbani plant.

“The cough drops are not being sold as a medicine for now, but as a herbal remedy. They will be available in stores in a month,” an Africa University official told Quartz Africa.

Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo

Pallbearers carry a coffin to the funeral of two cabinet ministers and a retired general who died after contracting Covid-19 in Harare on Jan. 27.

There is currently no research that shows the effectiveness of these drugs in treating or preventing Covid-19. However, Zimbabwe’s Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga has spoken out in favor of medical facilities to determine the effectiveness of traditional medicines and herbs in combating the novel coronavirus. However, government support for these funds, combined with vaccination skepticism even expressed by officials, could hamper Zimbabwe’s goal of vaccinating 60% of the population. The government has not said when to achieve this goal.

High level skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines

The Covax program is committed to vaccinating at least 20% of the African population. or about 300 million peopleby the end of this year.

In Zimbabwe, as in many African countries, the vaccine campaign against Covid-19 could be slowed down by vaccine hesitation on imported vaccines, triggered by a cocktail of lack of information, misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines against Covid-19.

In particular, the donated Chinese vaccine caused fear because it has not been approved by the World Health Organization and also has a lower rate of effectiveness than the recordings developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna.

In a broader sense, frontline workers and religious groups have raised concerns that Africans are being treated as guinea pigs for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by drug companies, despite the fact that the shots underwent human testing in several countries before being used in Africa.

The government is also not communicating effectively about the vaccines and how they have so far been tested and reviewed by multiple regulators.

“For a vaccination program to be effective, there must be a clear and effective communication plan, and this has not been the case in Zimbabwe,” said Norman Matara, secretary of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights. “People have no information about these vaccines and it makes them fear the unknown.”

In addition to the concerns of the medical community, Covid-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories are being spread not only by ordinary citizens on popular social media platforms, but also by religious leaders and political figures who are overly influential.

Zimbabwean Defense Minister Oppah Muchinguri, who said last year Covid-19 was a punishment from God on the US and its allies for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe. He has expressed strong opposition to imported vaccines – although Zimbabwe has no plans to develop a domestic vaccine.

“I will not take vaccines from other nations. Why shouldn’t we have ours? ” She said Last month.