On the profile of his social media account, Patient Kaloma, a medical researcher based in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is gazing at a plant that he clinches with his fingers.
For a man who is not keen on expressing himself, Kaloma becomes chatty or even eloquent when it comes to the green plant that seems nothing special to any outsiders.”After sowing the seeds, we must move on to the stage of nurseries. Here we just threw seeds on prepared soil, soon we will move them into the field. After several months, we are ready for harvest.” After a brief introduction, our interview with Kaloma kicked off with a step-by-step run-through of how he works with the plant.
The plant, called Artemisia annua or sweet wormwood plant, is a key element of the cure for malaria, a nightmare that haunts numerous African countries, especially Kaloma’s hometown. According to World Health Organization (WHO), Africa is the continent most affected by malaria, as the disease has claimed 384,000 lives in 2020 on the continent, including nearly 14,000 people in the DRC. “The DRC is a tropical country, people here of the North Kivu Province are victims of malaria. With our research that we have done, we have found that artemisia is a plant that can better treat malaria and other infectious diseases.” Kaloma said.”We have here a scale that helps us measure the grams (of the crushed Artemisia annua), the patient will recover after taking 5 grams per day with a liter of water for a week.” After years of expertise in leading Artemisia annua research on the field and fighting malaria, Kaloma is also nicknamed by local residents “Doctor Artemisia”. “The Chinese showed us a model to follow, they used the plant for a very long time to extract artemisinin. That is why, as Congolese researcher, we need to popularize this plant,” he said.
Artemisinin, extracted from the plant, proved effective in reducing mortality rates for patients suffering from malaria. The groundbreaking finding was led by Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, who won in 2015 a Nobel Prize for her persistent research on malaria. In late June, after 70 years of struggles against malaria, the WHO granted China a malaria-free certification, a huge inspiration according to Kaloma. “We also need to follow the same model as China, because nowadays the WHO has announced that China is now malaria-free,” he said.
CURE FOR MALARIA AND MORE
About two months after the eruption of volcano Nyiragongo when some of his fields were once swallowed by steaming lava, Kaloma and his team now start picking up the broken pieces, which gives him a new perspective that the plant is more than the cure for the disease.
“The culture of artemisia annua bring opportunities to the younger generation of North Kivu,” he said. As the region is experiencing a population explosion, with more and more young people living and working in urban areas, these young people must be given opportunities to transform local agricultural sectors, he explained.Under Kaloma’s initiative, many young people are now learning about the life-saving plant that could possibly put them on the right track for a better life.
The fight against youth unemployment is a considerable challenge, which demands creation of new agricultural and health enterprises, he noted.
“Young people are the present and future. Artemisia annua is really essential to the creation of a profitable agro-sanitary sector, which is less costly to consumers and more sustainable for a youth with adequate skills.”
“We need to change mindsets and create opportunities in agriculture, and we will see more entrepreneurs. If young people also benefit from a more dynamic entrepreneurial culture, they will be able to ensure their own prosperity and create jobs,” he said.