Journalist and director Katharina Weingartner and her team spent seven years researching the film “DAS FIEBER” and interviewed more than a hundred experts. In the film, those who are convinced that there has long been a herbal remedy and other local solutions to prevent and treat malaria have their say. However, the pharmaceutical industry and the WHO would hinder the application. The television SRF, which co-financed the film, refuses to broadcast it. Main argument: The criticized pharmaceutical company Novartis does not speak. It would be quite possible to broadcast a discussion with Novartis immediately after the film.
Black Lives Don’t Matter?
Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill, but the malaria parasite continues to rage unnoticed – year after year: As a result of the lockdown due to Covid-19, malaria will kill up to twice as many people than usual, according to the WHO. Black lives don’t matter? Malaria is the oldest disease of mankind. It has killed more people than all the other diseases and wars on Earth combined and, up until Covid-19, was probably the disease in which the most research money has been invested worldwide over the decades. Nevertheless, malaria parasites kill almost 500,000 people every year in sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of them children.
Facts about Malaria (source: WHO)
- In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria worldwide.
-The estimated number of malaria deaths in 2019 was 409 000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). in 2021, there will be a sharp increase due to Covid 19.
-The most malaria cases in 2019 were in the African region of the World Health Organization (WHO) (213 million or 93%), followed by the WHO region of Southeast Asia with 3.4% of cases and the WHO region of the Eastern Mediterranean with 2.1%.
-Children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable group; in 2018, they were responsible for 67% of all malaria deaths worldwide.
- The WHO Africa region contributes a disproportionate share of the global malaria burden. In 2018, there were 93% of malaria cases and 94% of malaria deaths in the region.
Ingredients from the mugwort herb
Imagine if there was an herb that could defeat the malaria parasite and save a thousand lives every day? A herb that anyone can easily grow in the garden?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Beifusskraut, Latin Artemisia, has been a major remedy for malaria for over 2000 years. in 1972, the Chinese pharmacologist Tu Youyou extracted the active ingredient artemisinin from the more than 240 known substances of the wormwood, Latin Artemisia annua. After successful clinical trials proving the efficacy of the drug, China offered it to the WHO in 1982 as a solution for the African regions where malaria killed hundreds of thousands of children every year. The WHO rejected the offer.
It was not until 20 years later that European pharmaceutical companies launched the artemisininCombination therapies ACT. in 2001, WHO signed a 10-year exclusive contract with Novartis to sell the ACT across the African continent. The trade name is Coartem. Meanwhile, coartem is less and less effective because resistance has formed over the years.
40 Years after its discovery, Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015.
Shock on site
During the seven-year biblical period needed to complete our film, we interviewed over 150 experts at conferences in the United States, China, Europe, and Africa. We researched at many scientific institutes worldwide, met activists and those affected.
What we then saw with our own eyes on the ground in clinics, villages and houses in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda was shocking: outdated medicines, resistant parasites, failing health services, dying children and desperate parents who had to decide whether to spend their last money on food or medicine.
The main protagonists in the film
On our first trip to East Africa, we met our protagonists and immediately knew that they should be the focus of the film. People like Rehema Namyalo, a farmer, herbalist and single mother who runs a small clinic where she treats her patients with Artemisia and other herbs and shows them how to grow the plants themselves and use them to protect against malaria. The World Health Organization (WHO) still recommends banning the use of the whole medicinal plant. “They can’t levy taxes on herbal medicine, so they import drugs like Coartem – everyone earns on it, including Uganda,” Rehema explains a system she understands all too well.
And people like doctor Richard Mukabana, an insect biologist at the University of Nairobi, who is tired of being used as a “field worker” for Western high-tech science institutes. He prefers to focus on the implementation of local, ecological solutions for vector control. Among other things, he also examines the role of community health work to reduce endemic malaria numbers near Lake Victoria. His experience: “There is always someone somewhere who is willing to make a profit from this disease. Usually it is not those who have the disease”. 90 Percent of malaria research funds are spent in North America and Europe, while 90 percent of real cases of the disease occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ten years ago, pharmacologist Patrick Ogwang was able to prove with standard scientific methods that the Artemisia plant works as a tea for malaria prophylaxis. Obviously, the whole Plant is more effective. It acts as a tea, even if, like Ogwang, artemisinin is removed from the tea, that is, the ingredient that the WHO questions despite the lack of evidence. WHO and Novartis claim that the artemisinin in the plant has caused resistance in the parasites. This has never been proven.
Ogwang is relentlessly confronted with indifference or even resistance. Finally, he takes a critical position on the dominant role of the pharmaceutical industry and on the ever-increasing profits that companies derive from the treatment of malaria: “Do the pharmaceutical industry and WHO want another 30 million people to die before they can admit that the plant Artemisia also works?”
Novartis and WHO have no say
We decided to leave the usual suspects under the editing table. Those who constantly reveal their views on the so-called “poverty-related diseases” in the media anyway: scientists and philanthropic capitalists from the global North, as well as the people in the leadership positions of the pharmaceutical industry and the WHO, for the most part still white men.
In many documentaries, too, we experience the same repetition of old colonial patterns and narratives, in which Africa and African “suffering” serve only as a backdrop. The people affected by malaria in such films usually act exclusively as victims and, even worse, as statistics. Those affected are systematically rendered speechless and have neither access to their traditions, to drug production, to research funds, laboratories, nor to self-determined strategies.
That is why in the film “THE FEVER” the protagonists act as independent actors who spend their whole lives with the malaria parasites: They can and want to fight the malaria fever themselves – if they had the means and possibilities to do so.
Fear of lawsuits
When we presented this film concept with a rough cut to our co-producers and sponsors in Germany and Switzerland, we ran against an invisible but insurmountable wall. “If there is no white person from minute 33, we lose the German audience,” said one producer. “Where is the objectivity? Where are the scientists?an editor complained, “Rehema Namyalo speaks of a perceived reality. Where are the facts?“She could not broadcast the film. “If we show this film, they will sue us,” announced an editor and got out. By " man " was meant, in particular, Novartis.
The only institutions that were to our editorial decision-making, were the Austrian film promotion Fund and the ORF. Only with the mobilization of private loans could we finally complete the film. We did it. in 2019 we celebrated our premiere at the DOK Festival in Leipzig. The audience understood our film, and even the important Congolese Artemisia researcher Jerome Munyangi came from his exile in Paris to participate in our Q&A.
The news about the documentary has since spread, it has been shown at festivals and won many awards, e.g. at the Internazionale in Rome, from Oslo and Prague to Turkey, in Brazil and Taiwan, in Mexico, Spain, Canada and was to be shown at a festival in Guangzhou, where it unfortunately had to be withdrawn because of the “sensitive content”. Most recently, the Film was banned in Uganda, but won the Festival in Zaragoza.
Covid-19 prevented proper film premiere
Due to Covid-19, a regular cinema release was not possible until now. At our online premiere in Germany for World Malaria Day 2021, 11,000 people wanted to watch online, which overwhelmed the server. However, it clearly showed how timely and correct it was to put the people of East Africa and their local problems and solutions in the foreground.
Our next goal is to send the Film on an Advocacy Tour in malaria-prone countries, along with the protagonist Rehema Namyalo and Artemisia afra seedlings (do not contain Artemisinin) and Ad-hoc Workshops. This is going to be a tough challenge. And maybe even a dangerous one. The censorship in Uganda shows us the extent of the resistance directed from Europe.
Alleged formation of resistance
Because the WHO and the pharmaceutical industry do not back away from their scientifically unproven argument that artemisinin in tea from Artemisia annua causes resistance in the malaria parasite, and they stubbornly reject any proposal to engage even in a scientific conversation on this topic and produce the necessary evidence. There has never been any scientific evidence that herbal preparations containing over 240 ingredients could cause resistance in any parasite. On the contrary, growing resistance of parasites to ACT was first documented in Southeast Asia, and now in African countries.
Evidence-based studies of recognized scientists-from Nobel laureate Tu Youyou to David Sullivan of Johns Hopkins University – conclude that the resistance is caused by the artemisinin in the ACT. While African research work is neglected or overlooked, WHO insists on banning Artemisia annua and does not support further studies on the subject.
In May 2020, in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, AFRO, the WHO Regional Office for Africa, issued a statement saying: “Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for Covid-19 and should be tested for efficacy and side effects.“The WHO had never given malaria research this opportunity.
Scientific debate, provoke
Meanwhile, resistance against our film is organized. A hastily formulated petition full of errors, which has now been signed by 160 malaria researchers, tropical medicine institutes, doctors, lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies, has reached the last remaining broadcaster, the ORF. Nevertheless, the channel decided to broadcast the film. The petition accuses me as a director and all of us as a research and production team of unethical, manipulative and immoral methods. We would question the science and scientific evidence because we bring in African history and the African perspective that Artemisia tea works against malaria and does not cause parasite resistance. Our film is supposed to spark a scientific debate. But the petition calls for censorship of the film from the public television stations.
All the more we want to show our film in as many malaria-affected countries as possible. To this end, we founded the NGO Fight The Fever and are planning the first 30 screenings in East Africa in local languages later this year.