Dr. Jérôme Munyangi holds a BA in Medicine from the University of Kinshasa, a Masters from the University of Paris Diderot and another from the University of Ottawa. In 2011 he was hired by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a researcher on little-studied tropical diseases. He has been working for 6 years on an alternative plant treatment against malaria in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the third most affected African country after Nigeria and Mozambique. His research demonstrates the effectiveness of the Artemisia-based treatment, a plant that the Chinese have been treating themselves with for over 2000 years. The WHO and other international organizations oppose its use, France and Belgium prohibit it and the subject creates controversy, while the scourge continues to befall the populations. According to the latest WHO report,According to the World Malaria Report 2018, every 2 minutes a child under the age of 5 dies from this treatable disease.
Dr. Jérôme Munyangi, you recently fled your country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, for security reasons. Several months have passed since his arrival in Paris. What prompted you to move to France?
In 2015, I started receiving threats from drug retailers who work with Indian and Chinese pharmaceutical companies and are establishing themselves virtually everywhere in Africa. These companies are known to be involved in the trafficking of falsified medicines. I have resisted several attacks since 2015. I have also been poisoned, as clearly reported in the documentary Malaria Business , and in the press in 2017.
Can you remind us what happened?
We started a clinical trial on malaria in the Maniema province of Kindu in November 2015, with all the authorizations required by Kinshasa, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Scientific Research, etc. The doctor in charge of the area first attempted to interrupt the work. We had to contact the minister in Kinshasa to get the searches to resume. A week later, I was not feeling well at all, I started throwing up and lacked the energy to keep working. A homeopathic doctor diagnosed poisoning. Everyone living in East Africa is familiar with this type of poison, which has no antidote. I went for about 2 weeks to another province, in Goma, on the border with Rwanda, to be treated. Subsequently, in early 2016,I went to Canada to do some tests and it was found that my inner stomach was punctured by ulcers.
Have you recently received any new threats that prompted you to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
I did not return to France out of simple desire, but following an arrest in March 2019 in Kinshasa, where I was arbitrarily and illegally arrested at night, around 10 pm, and then detained for 3 days by the police, without any report or warrant. After being heard by a magistrate it was clear that my file was empty, without any evidence.
Have you applied for political asylum and at what point is your application?
I am working with a French NGO, La maison de l’Artemisia , which encourages the use of this plant to promote effective and accessible treatment to the needy population in Africa. I had to leave the Congo and stayed for a while at the French embassy in Bangui [capital of the Central African Republic]. Then I got a visa to come to France. Now I am asking for political asylum to obtain protection that I have neither my country of origin nor Africa in general.
Your research on this plant began in 2014. How did it start?
It was 2012. I was still a medical student in Congo and I was organizing scientific meetings in Kinshasa where I invited students, professors and researchers to discuss diseases and scientific news. One day I fell ill with malaria and in the hospital I was offered a treatment based on quinine. But I couldn’t stand this molecule, being aware of its side effects. I asked a doctor friend of mine if there was an alternative. He replied: “I have some pills from Luxembourg, it’s Artemisia”. At the insistence of the doctor, I accepted the pills and 3 days later I felt better. He told me to continue the treatment for seven days. On the eighth day, in the Kinshasa laboratory where I was able to enter, I analyzed my blood,discovering that it was similar to that of a person who had never lived in an endemic area.
In 2014 I came to France for my master’s in synthetic biology under the supervision of the universities of Paris VII and Paris V. This medical friend who had treated me in Congo in 2012, wrote to his professor in Luxembourg to announce my arrival in France. The latter then wrote to Dr. Lucile Cornet-Vernet, founder of the Maison d’Artemisia association, to tell her that a Congolese doctor, who had already experienced Artemisia, was in France and that he could be offered a research topic related to this plant. However, some members of Artemisia’s defense network thought I might be a “mole”, as I had worked with WHO, an organization that no longer recommends the use of Artemisia herbal tea, resulting in a ban on its use. of this plant in France and Belgium. Furthermore,I have had, and still have, good relationships with everyone I have worked with at WHO and who occupy decision-making positions in Africa. I was therefore considered unsavory, or even unwelcome. But Dr. Lucile Cornet-Vernet has another view of things; he invited me to his Paris office and we finally started working on Artemisia.
How has your research been received in Paris?
We worked on an animal model, paramecium, which grows almost everywhere in wastewater. It has the molecular specificities of plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria. Paramecium is used to evaluate drug dosage. We have obtained conclusive results from which we have conducted biological and clinical attempts.
Why is the plant banned in France and Belgium? How do you explain this prohibition?
WHO is a body that regulates health issues on the basis of studies by research institutes and scientists. WHO can be misled by scientists’ positions and their interests. In its June 2012 statement , WHO does not recommend the use of Artemisia annua , in any form, including tea, for the treatment or prevention of malaria.
The WHO made this decision rather hastily and insisted on resistance to treatment, without referring to the scientific documentation that has been available for a long time. As a result, France and Belgium have applied this WHO recommendation to the letter, going as far as the formal ban.
Yet the plant is easily found. Here in Paris, it is located along the motorway towards Lille. In Africa we have a variety, Artemisia afra , which grows everywhere, is an endemic, autochthonous plant, known by the indigenous peoples.
He talked about threats against him. In your opinion, are pharmaceutical companies taking steps to prevent it from harming their interests?
Malaria is part of the business. Western multinationals are losing a lot of money on malaria treatment in Africa. These pharmaceutical companies find it difficult to sell their products in Africa because the continent has become a monopoly of Chinese and Indians. France, Belgium, Interpol in general, are working with the international customs federations against the trafficking of falsified medicines. The legal production of medicines in Europe is worth almost € 1 trillion, the production of falsified medicines is worth 70 or 200 billion.
Known in China for over 2,000 years, Artemisia annuait is in history in the last century when, during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the plant was recommended as a treatment to the North Vietnamese soldiers decimated by malaria with some success. For its part, the United States, equally affected by the disease, had used a mefloquine treatment, known by the trade name of Lariam®, effective but not without worrying neuropsychological side effects: nightmares, memory loss, paranoia, depression and suicidal thoughts. . However, this mefloquine treatment has been used extensively by US troops during interventions in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. As explained by the fact that mefloquine (Lariam® 250), produced by the Swiss company Hoffmann-La Roche, is still recommended by the Pasteur Institute despite its side effects,while Artemisia is no longer recommended by international organizations such as WHO?
I ask myself this question every day. Why this double-weight policy and the two measures of the global health regulator, WHO, of all research institutes in the world today, of African governments and policy makers?
Lariam®, whose devastating side effects are incomparable to those of the plant, is an emblematic example. If we compare the risk-benefit ratio of Lariam® with the Artemisia herbal tea, I’m sure most people would opt for the herbal tea, as taking Lariam® carries many risks. It is unimaginable that Lariam® is recommended and Artemisia is banned.
In 2001, the WHO declared artemisinin represented “the greatest hope in the world against malaria”. Then, in June 2012, in the statement you quote, the WHO advises against its use . Yet, in 2015, Tu Youyou won the first Nobel Prize in Chinese medicine for proving its effectiveness in antimalarial treatments. Why is the WHO opposed to the use of Artemisia in its natural form? Is it due to a lack of scientific evidence – difficult to obtain, given that WHO does not fund research on the plant – or due to the very hypothetical risk of developing resistance?
There is no proven resistance to Artemisia annua herbal tea. It is not possible to develop resistance to a combined therapy, it is possible to develop resistance against a single molecule. Scientists are currently working on why resistance to the treatment was developing in China and Africa.
Why don’t research institutes, WHO and other donors want to invest money to put an end to the controversy over this plant once and for all? Shouldn’t it be studied?
If the Maison d’Artemisia and I have decided to conduct these studies, it is not to create a drug or patent an invention. What interests us is that African scientists, donors and policy makers put the spotlight on herbal tea, which would be the solution for Africans. In a continent-country like Congo, why can’t herbal tea be a first solution for populations far from cities with impassable roads, before the sick are cared for in a health center? Herbal tea could be a relief for these people before they enter the hospital.
Africa is the continent most dependent on the amount of drugs, with almost 95%. In Central Africa, 99% of the antimalarial drugs consumed come from India and China. Africa could benefit enormously from cultivating its medicinal and traditional heritage if it developed, financed and supported its own research, as we have proposed to do with Artemisia. Why governments, why donors don’t want to get involved in this problem. It’s just a question of financial interest, because billions of dollars are at stake.
For the first time on the African continent, some 6,400 genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in a location in southwestern Burkina Faso, where the disease remains the leading cause of death and where more than 27,000 people died in 2017. This experiment is the testing phase of the Target Malaria program, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for 60 million euros. What is his reaction?
It is carnage. I wish there was a Thomas Sankara in this country that requires proof of efficacy before releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment. We do not know the impact of these mosquitoes on the environment and human health. How is it possible that this type of study is authorized and the consumption of a plant that could effectively cure, prevent and fight malaria is prohibited? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, yet we know that currently in a country like Congo the mosquito nets have not been impregnated with insecticide, as the resigning Congolese Minister of Health also acknowledged in his reply letter. to the Collective of Civil Society Organizations for Health and the Fight against Malaria.This foundation and other donors are not living up to their commitments. These experiences make no sense and are an insult to African researchers, peoples and governments.
 Malaria Business , documentary film by Bernard Crutzen, co-production Caméra One Télévision – RTBF, 2017, Belgium, Congo, Senegal, Madagascar. One version is available online.
 “ Effectiveness of Non-Pharmaceutical Forms of Artemisia annua L. against malaria”, WHO Position Statement , WHO et Global Malaria Program, Juin 2012.
Interview of dr. Jérôme Duval
Jérôme Duval is a member of the CADTM, Committee for the Abolition of Illicit Debts and of the PACD, the Citizens’ Debt Control Platform in Spain. He is the author with Fátima Martín of the book C onstrucción europea al servicio de los mercados financieros , (Icaria editorial, 2016) and is also co-author of the book La Dette ou la Vie , (Aden-CADTM, 2011), a collective work coordinated by Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint who received the Political Book Prize in Liège in 2011.
ARTEMISIA ANNUA HERBAL TEA, 70G
- Italian product
- Ingredients: Artemisia Annua, dried leaves and flowers
- Pack of 70g/ 500g/ 1kg
- Company: Erbe di Mauro