Around 600,000 citriodor eucalyptus trees are planted each year on the Viphya Plateau in northern Malawi. (Corymbia citriodora). Kawandama Hills Plantations (KHP) company extracts its essential oils for use against tropical diseases or in the cosmetic and perfume industries. Faced with the current health crisis, the company has diversified its business to offer a local solution to the future of the pandemic: from natural insect repellants to hydroalcoholic gels.
KHP has developed Virisafe, a natural hydroalcoholic gel from citriodiol, a compound found in essential oils of these, also called lemon eucalyptus. It is subsequently distilled and refined in the UK to obtain p-Mentane 3.8 diol (PMD). This natural active ingredient turns out to be a new hope against covid-19, according to the latest inquiries of the British Department of Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The study, which aimed to determine the level of antiviral activity of an anti-mosquito spray against SARS-CoV-2, has shown that citriodiol produces “some loss of the virus”, although it has not yet been subjected to an arbitration of the experts. It also remains to be demonstrated whether its effectiveness is permanent.
Still, this Malawian raw material encourages DSTL in their work to ease the pandemic and hopes that “the results of this review will be a springboard for other organizations to expand and develop the research.” “Thanks to our internal tests, we have known for a long time that p-Mentane 3.8 diol has antibacterial properties,” says KHP founder and manager Tanya Clarke.
From the essential oils of eucalyptus citriodora a natural active ingredient with antibacterial properties is obtained
Virisafe hit stores last July after approval from the Malawian Ministry of Health. With a minty smell and cooling action, this gel has an alcohol base between 65 and 75%, above the international standard of 60% for disinfectant products. But the research dates back to 2004, when his PDM was tested in the wake of the SARS-CoV virus outbreak. Then, Clarke and her team already detected that this compound attacked the lipid envelope of certain viruses. “These include the coronavirus family.” The product was not marketed on that occasion. “We didn’t even have the company in place yet,” says Clarke, who created KHP in 2009.
Ten years later, with the worldwide spread of covid-19, the “opportunity to help arose, especially on the African continent”. The new tests pointed to the efficacy of citriodiol against SARS-CoV-2 and it was time to play “an important role” from Malawi. The traditional business has been joined by the production of a hydroalcoholic gel as well as some sprays for masks and other household cleaning products that help prevent the spread of the virus.
And they have received “good news” from the laboratory. According to KHP, recent tests have shown that the gel protection lasts for more than four hours. Clarke remarks that one of the drawbacks of hand sanitizers is their lack of lasting effect, so “infection can occur immediately.” From KHP they recognize the difficulty of finding a place in the local market “flooded with gels since the first months of the pandemic.” “They are mainly alcoholic and chemical options that smell very strong and are unpleasant.” They propose their alternative: “Durable, natural and non-toxic. And made in Malawi ”.
A local solution
Proximity and local talent are differentiating factors for Malawians to opt for this product, but competition with other imported brands is stiff. Currently, a 100-milliliter jar of Virisafe with a flip-top lid costs 1,500 Malawian Kwacha, just under two euros. However, there is a large section of the population that cannot afford to spend that money. Reducing the price is one of the tasks for KHP because, despite the lethality of the pandemic, “in Malawi, and in Africa in general, we are used to tropical diseases, so the use of gels tends to provoke a response varied ”.
KHP’s citriodiol was already tested in the SARS-CoV virus outbreak in 2004
KHP seeks the support of the authorities to support local initiatives. “It is interesting to see how the government has promoted financial incentives for imported products, but they are not offered to manufacturers here. They’re even tax-free, so it’s hard for us to compete, ”Clarke complains. At home blacksmith, wooden knife.
While “intense and heated negotiations” are being held with the Malawian government, Clarke wants to export his product to the rest of the continent. At the moment, Europe is exempt due to regulation EN14476 which indicates that to market a virucidal product it must reach 99.9% effectiveness. “It is unrealistic, since it is only achievable through the use of chemicals. The question is how do you get that percentage? ”Asks Clarke. “Virisafe has a 90% antivirus effectiveness and is natural.”
The essential oils from the thousands of citriodora eucalyptus trees in the Viphya Forest Reserve are an incentive to boost industry and innovation in Malawi. Through this sustainable and environmentally-friendly business model, this tree species has opened the possibility of fighting against covid-19 with natural and indigenous resources. But Clarke looks to the future: “We are trying to take Virisafe beyond an issue related to covid-19.”
Thus, KHP is already considering hiring a greater number of local workers to consolidate the product in the local market and supply the growing demand. “The most important thing is to sell a product made in Malawi,” reiterates Clarke. “We are the first citriodiol gel in the world. If this progresses, PMD will be created synthetically, as it is cheaper for large quantities. But Malawi will have been the first country to do so. And you can claim it with pride. “