Thailand’s richest man has announced that his company will produce a traditional herbal remedy to treat symptoms of COVID-19 as the country grapples with a devastating third wave of infections.
Dhanin Chearavanont, senior chairman of top Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group, said this week that he is setting aside about 100 rai (16 hectares) of CP Group’s land in Saraburi Province to grow fah talai jone. The herb is used to make an anti-inflammatory drug recently approved by the health ministry to treat coronavirus patients.
The company will also build a factory to turn the herb into capsules, and will provide them to the public for free.
The plantation will be located about 100 km north of Bangkok. Dhanin said it will take around 100 days for the plants to mature and be processed as herbal capsules.
Infections have been surging in Thailand, hitting a record daily high of 20,200 on Wednesday, according to health ministry data. That brings the total number of cases to 672,385, and total deaths to 5,503.
The massive number of patients is far above the ability of the Thai public health system to cope with, and the limited availability of hospital beds and medicine has forced many people to isolate at home and rely on traditional herbal treatments.
Fah talai jone, known in English by the general names green chiretta or creat, is an annual herbaceous plant native to India and Sri Lanka. It has been widely used for centuries in Thailand and some neighboring countries as a treatment for acute respiratory tract infection and to reduce inflammation and coughing.
In July, the Thai government approved the use of fah talai jone after a trial of the herbal remedy on prison inmates, in which 99% of 11,800 subjects with mild symptoms reportedly recovered. The government is hopeful that wider availability of the herb will help relieve pressure on the public health system.
However, the government’s approval led to shortages of the herb as many patients who were self-isolating rushed to snap up the treatment.
Dhanin did not give any details on the budget for the factory to produce fah talai jone capsules. However, the senior official said it would be less than the 100 million baht ($3.1 million) that the group spent on a face mask factory last year, when Thailand experienced a shortage of them during the first wave of the pandemic.
The factory has been producing and distributing around 3 million masks to doctors and health workers monthly since March 2020.