A man rides around a bike and distributes tea to workers on a flower farm.
Photos courtesy of Brendan Borrell
ENTEBBE, Uganda—It's a little after 9 a.m. on the Wagagai Flower Farm, and Robert Watsusi pedals a bicycle laden with two 3-gallon jugs of a hot, bitter black tea. As he rounds a corner, workers emerge from football field–size growing houses to imbibe their weekly dose of the elixir they say keeps them free from malaria. “When I see people taking it, I feel happy,” says Watsusi. “It is very good for everyone.”
The tea comes from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), the Chinese plant that is a source for the world's most powerful anti-malarial treatments, which combine artemisinin derivatives with an older class of drugs. It can also be grown in wetter parts of Africa, and a year’s supply costs no more than a few dollars. Although the tea itself has traditionally been used in treatment, not prevention, in China, a randomized controlled trial on this farm showed that workers who drank it regularly reduced their risk of suffering from multiple episodes of malaria by one-third. For a group of people who were once waylaid by this mosquito-borne disease four or more times per year, the tea is a godsend.
Which is why you may be surprised to learn that the World Health Organization and a majority of malaria researchers are adamantly opposed to it.