Interview with Arnaud Nouvion

Gene Drives will most probably be released first to fight malaria. We therefore created this series of interviews with health care experts, researchers and civil society to amplify their voices and concerns around this technology.

How is the financial situation around Malaria?

“It is great how much money is available these days to fight diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis or aids. The Global Fund has recently raised 14 billion dollars, from which a big chunk is dedicated to malaria. Most of the money is spent on nets, the newest medicine and the vaccin.”, says Arnaud Nouvion from the Maison de l’Artémisia (engl.: house of artemisia),

“I think that is great! Every money spent to fight malaria is well spent.”

What „solutions“ are you working on?

He points out that there are also cheaper measures against the disease, such as the artemisia plant, that would “only” require 10 million dollars to proceed with clinical studies and prove once and for all if the plant works. This money would be needed to fulfill the requirements of the World Health Organization. There are a lot of renowned doctors and research institutes, such as l’Institut Pasteur or the University of Tübingen, that have joined forces in an international consortium to examine the benefits of the artemisia plant. But they still lack the funding to conduct their research. For pharmaceutical labs there is no incentive to work on the plant, because the main  idea is that the plant would be easily available and cheap. Economically speaking it makes sense that no for-profit-company works on this. Labs are made to develop highly complicated medication and artemisia is not. 

“Artemisia is the “praise of simplicity”, says Arnaud, “You simply boil a handful of the stem and the leaves for 10 minutes and you get your tea.”

This has been practiced in China for centuries. The nobel prize laureate Tu Youyou discovered in traditional medical books that artemisinin (an extract from the artemisia plant) could cure malaria.

Why have no philanthropists invested in that?

Arnaud Nouvion believes that this solution has not reached the philanthropes yet. Because if they’d discover that, it would be a “dream come true“ for them. This could have the biggest impact. It could save thousands of lives. Malaria is not the deadliest of the diseases, but it has the worst impact on the livelihoods of people. Nowadays there are thousands of hectares all over Africa where Artemisia is grown, in backyard gardens, by big companies or by farmers cooperatives. All are good, all work. “We have indications that it works, we just need the clinical studies to prove it once and for all and then maybe philanthropists might see it too.”, says Arnaud Nouvion, “when it comes to the correct dosing of artemisia, here again science would do its job. More research will lead to better treatment.”

He furthermore points out that Artemisia afra does not contain artemisinin, but does work against malaria, thereby even further decreasing the risk of creating resistances.

What do you think about Gene Drives?

Arnaud talks about Malaria as a really big wound, a blight, affecting many people. He sees a hierarchy of solutions. When comparing artemisia to gene drives it seems quite clear to him. On one hand he thinks, we have a cheap and easy solution that has been tested for hundreds of years and on the other hand we have an expensive, complicated and untested approach. He makes clear that he is not against novel solutions or that no money should be spent on research diversification, but that in this case the answer to the question: “which measure should be used first?”, is quite clear. 

And what about the vaccine?

A vaccine against malaria would be great too. At the same time some obstacles have to be overcome, such as keeping the refrigeration chain up until the very remote areas and guaranteeing that children between zero and two years get four doses. When it comes to artemisia Arnaud is precautious in advising it for babies. Here again he points to the lack of clinical studies. He simply doesn’t know how it would affect babies, therefore he takes a precautionary approach and advises it only for older children.  

La maison de l’Afrique  will be hosting a webinar on the 25th that is also under the umbrella of “the praise of simplicity”. Three different approaches to fighting malaria will be presented. One speaker will talk about the use of artemisia, the other one about a repellent to be applied on the skin  and the last one will present a trap to be placed around the house with an ecological insecticide. Three further “users” of these measures will talk about their experiences with it. 

A mug of artemisia tea every morning during the rainy season and nobody dies from malaria anymore. Sounds too easy? Maybe we should try this first before using complicated and expensive approaches such as Gene drives?

These are the interviews on the topic held so far with the following experts:

Andreas Wulf, physician and expert for global health policy at Medico International in the Berlin office, provides his views on the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in international health policy and his outlook on necessary conditions for the implementation of the human right to health in Africa.
Click here for the interview

Ali Tapsoba de Goamma, human rights activist, and spokesman for an alliance in Burkina Faso against the release of Gene Drive mosquitoes in his home country, on the malaria control measures implemented so far and the attitude of the local population towards the planned field trials with Gene Drive mosquitoes.
Click here for the interview

Pamela J. Weathers, professor and researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, USA, on the efficacy and controversial safety of Artemisia tea infusions for treating or preventing malaria.
Click here for the interview

Lucile Cornet-Vernet, founder of La Maison de L’Artémisia, describes the potential benefits of the Artémisia plant and state that more funding is needed to conduct clinical studies, proving once and for all that the plant is a great tool in the fight against malaria.

Click here for the interview

More interviews to follow.