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Without drugs approved for the new coronavirus, some people are turning to alternative medicines, often with the governments that promote them.
This is particularly evident in India and China, densely populated countries with a deep history and tradition of promoting such treatments, and where access to conventional medicine is sometimes limited.
In India, where the containment of its 1.3 billion inhabitants is underway, the government has been criticized after claiming that certain treatments could help prevent infections. In China, where the pandemic started, authorities have baselessly claimed that traditional medicine is the key to fighting the virus. In Venezuela, where the health care system is severely damaged, President Nicolas Maduro has offered to drink herbal tea.
The World Health Organization had advised against taking “traditional herbal remedies” on its website. He later admitted that some were turning to alternative medicine “to alleviate some of the milder symptoms of COVID-19,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.
Dr Mike Ryan, WHO emergency chief, welcomed the rigorous studies on alternative treatments “as we would any drug.” He said there are many studies going on in China, many of which are testing traditional therapies.
“It is up to the applicants to provide the evidence,” said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who runs Quackwatch, a website on unproven medical therapies.
Thursday, U.S. National Institutes of Health cautioned against alternative medicine – including certain herbal therapies and teas – for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19, saying there was no evidence of their effectiveness and that some could be dangerous.
Here is a closer look at the claims:
India is steeped in Ayurveda, a system of Hindu medicine that revolves around herbal medicines and dietary restrictions.
As the epidemic spread outside of China earlier this year, India’s health industry, which promotes alternative medicine, has pushed unproven remedies to “strengthen the immune system.” ”, According to an online article from the Ministry of AYUSH.
Critics have urged the government to clarify that these remedies are not a cure. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the foreclosure of India and asked citizens to “follow the instructions issued by the AYUSH ministry to strengthen immunity”.
The government has also recommended a single dose of a homeopathic medicine, according to Anu Kapoor, who runs a government-run homeopathic hospital in New Delhi.
But it has not been shown to work, said Dr. Anant Bhan, a public health specialist. “The same standards should apply. Especially for times like this, “he said.
Pressure from the Indian government for alternative treatments for COVID-19, combined with bizarre statements by elected officials from the ruling Bhartiya Janta party that urine or cow dung could provide remedies, has also led to disinformation.
Last month, Modi spoke with alternative medical professionals about the need to counter unsubstantiated claims that they could cure COVID-19. The AYUSH ministry then ordered all states to “stop and prevent advertising and publicity” of the promised remedies.
The Chinese government has said the combination of herbal medicine with conventional medicine has helped the country cope with the epidemic.
Last month, the National Health Commission of China released a document on the treatment of patients with COVID-19, which included several herbal medicines claimed to relieve symptoms such as weakness and fever.
For infected patients, he prescribed, among other remedies, a “soup to cleanse and detoxify the lungs” and recommended a case-by-case assessment.
Chinese authorities and public media have touted treating patients with alternative medicine against healthcare workers exposed to the virus.
But some reports published in the main medical journals of a large number of patients treated in China make no mention of alternative medicine. Instead, they note that the treatment revolved around established methods such as breathing assistance, medication to help prevent additional infections such as bacterial pneumonia and other widely accepted therapies.
Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist who advised the government, said earlier this year that he is testing Chinese herbal medicines.
Some of these practices have existed for centuries. But with little or no scientific evidence that they work against COVID-19, attempts have been made to define it as a cultural, not scientific, problem.
The promotion of treatments “without adequate scientific basis” was of concern, said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Some of these preparations can be toxic, damage the liver, or interfere with other drugs, and “you have to do the heavy lifting” to prove them safe, he said.