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Madagascar sacks health minister after virus squabble

Ahmad Ahmad's cabinet exit was revealed on Thursday in the announcement of a new list of ministers following a reshuffle.

The president of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina attends a ceremony to launch 'Covid Organics' or CVO, in Antananarivo on 20 April 2020. CVO is a remedy from the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) created from the Artemisia plant and is supposed to prevent any infection by COVID-19. Picture: AFP

ANTANANARIVO - Madagascar on Thursday said it had fired its health minister as part of a government reshuffle, a move that came a month after he butted heads with President Andry Rajoelina for seeking outside help for coronavirus.

The Indian Ocean island-nation saw COVID-19 cases surge in July despite an official campaign to promote a controversial herbal drink touted as a remedy for the virus.

As hospitals raised concerns about lack of beds, Health Minister Ahmad Ahmad wrote a letter in July asking international agencies to send medical equipment.

His appeal sparked anger in Rajoelina's administration, which said Ahmad had acted "without consulting" either the government or head of state.

Ahmad's cabinet exit was revealed on Thursday in the announcement of a new list of ministers following a reshuffle.

"Jean Louis Hanitrala Rakotovao has been named new health minister," cabinet secretary Valery Ramonjavelo told a press conference, without giving details about the change.

Rajoelina has been promoting an infusion derived from artemisia, a plant with proven anti-malarial properties, as a homegrown cure for COVID-19.

The drink, named Covid-Organics, has been widely distributed in Madagascar and sold to several other countries, mainly in Africa.

The UN's World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that there have been no published scientific studies to validate claims for the drink, and mainstream scientists have pointed to potential risks from untested concoctions.

Rajoelina has ignored the warnings and blamed a jump in cases last month on "increased testing capacity".

Madagascar's coronavirus outbreak seems to have slowed since then, with new daily confirmed cases dropping from peaks of over 400 in July to an average of around 80 since Monday.

To date, the country has recorded more than 14,000 infections, of which 177 deaths have been fatal.

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