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No, Madagascar president didn’t say in interview that WHO offered him $20m to poison Covid-19 remedy

Madagascar’s president Andry Rajoelina has said the World Health Organization offered him US$20 million to poison a herbal based tonic he has been promoting as a treatment for Covid-19.

That’s according to dozens of posts circulating on Facebook in Tanzania and beyond since 15 May 2020. The posts have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

The claim has also turned up on Twitter, where it attracted thousands of reactions, and on websites across the world

Nearly all of them reference the Tanzania Perspective newspaper, whose 14 May 2020 edition was headlined “WHO offered $20m bribe to see Covid-19 medicine poisoned - Madagascar President”.

Articles in both the paper and in Fahari Yetu, a Kiswahili-language newspaper from the same publishing stable, claim that Rajoelina made the accusation in an interview with French media outlet France24.

The publications claim Rajoelina said he was offered the bribe to poison the remedy in order to kill “his African brothers”.

On 22 April Rajoelina launched Covid-Organics, a herbal tonic, with the claim it had already cured two people with Covid-19

Since then it has been shipped to a number of African countries, despite not having gone through clinical trials. The African Union has asked for scientific data on the “safety and efficacy” of the tonic, while the WHO also urged caution.

But did Rajoelina tell France 24 the WHO had offered him $20 million to poison Covid-Organics? We checked.


Interview with French broadcasters

On 11 May Rajoelina was interviewed by Marc Perelman from France24 and Christophe Boisbouvier from Radio France Internationale. The two stations are owned by the government of France, which was Madagascar’s colonial ruler.   

On 12 May France24 published an English translation of the 17-minute exclusive interview, which was also widely reported on by other publications such as the BBC.

In it, Rajoelina responded to questions and criticism about Covid-Organics, which he described as a “preventive and curative remedy”. 

When asked for proof, he said of 171 Covid-19 infections in Madagascar, 105 had recovered having taken no other medication apart from the artemisia-based tonic. The country reported its first death from the coronavirus on 17 May while it has 322 cases as at 19 May.

Extracts from the Artemisia annua plant are used for malaria treatment. The WHO says that “medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for Covid-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects.”

Rajoelina said that Covid-Organics had been dismissed because it was developed by a poor African country.

He also claimed other medications had been backed by WHO despite being harmful, singling out Mediator, a weight loss drug which was later linked to hundreds of deaths in France and other European countries.

But nowhere in the France24 interview does he say the WHO or “Europeans” had offered him a bribe to put poison in the remedy, as claimed by the Tanzanian publications. We also could not find any other interviews where he has made this claim.

The Tanzania Perspective has reported inaccurately before. In another widely shared article, it claimed that the World Bank had, in a report, praised Tanzania’s anti-Covid-19 policy.

The bank denied this in a statement, saying that its report had made no “specific mention or assessment of Tanzania’s Covid-19 response”. - Africa Check


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