Society of Bioethics and Medicine
Using ‘Miracle’ Cures to Fight COVID-19
Written by Jonathan Gao
Edited by Elizabeth Badalov
It feels just like yesterday when the sharp scent of Five Thieves essential oil and the pungent smell of garlic boiling in a mysterious broth hung in the air of my home. The garlic broth, whose fumes were supposedly used to ‘disinfect’ the air of homes in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic, made a popular resurgence during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. As for essential oils, despite the debate on the merits of using them against illnesses, they have been touted by some as a homeopathic remedy to COVID-19.
Unproven preventatives and remedies for COVID-19 have been all the rage, and trends have surged around the world like wildfire as a result of the dissemination of misinformation through social media platforms and even through mainstream media. From presidentially-suggested bleach injections to colloidal silver solutions backed by preachers to ivermectin, a deworming drug used for cattle, the range of existing products that exploit the anxieties and fears of everyday consumers are truly far and wide.
Perhaps one of the more interesting stories comes from Madagascar, whose president Andry Rajoelina gave a press conference to an onlooking crowd of journalists, diplomatic aides, and ministers. Endorsing a herbal tea named “Covid-Organics,” he takes a swig of the tonic that was once used to treat cases of malaria in the country. Skeptics at home and abroad were quick to react as Rajoelina endorsed it, comparing its efficacy to that of conventional Western medicines. The medical community in Africa and the World Health Organization (WHO) alike expressed concerns regarding this “treatment” that has been tested informally in a group of under 20 patients.
Nearly 5,000 miles away in Indonesia, viral videos can be seen of frantic customers buying up a particular brand of milk that is claimed to boost production of COVID-19 antibodies. While the source of the unfounded claim is unknown, high demand for a beverage that can supposedly offer the same effect as a vaccine caused prices to skyrocket 455% (Menon, 2021). The Indonesia Medical Association was quick in its response, stating that milk cannot combat the virus and that all brands offer the same regular nutritional benefits.
So what have authorities done to clamp down on untested and unproven ‘miracle cures’ for COVID-19?
In a report published early in 2020, the WHO urged health authorities, healthcare professionals, and supply chain stakeholders to exert increased vigilance when preventing distribution of falsified products, especially in clinical settings. Operation Pangea XIII, led by Interpol, is perhaps one of the most extensive international efforts to crack down on criminals dealing in counterfeit items, such as subpar hand sanitizers and unauthorized medications, across 90 countries.
The question still remains: When will the world begin to see a legitimate cure on the market for COVID-19?
While many clinical trials to put therapeutics on the market are underway, most notably monoclonal antibodies and steroid medications, the fact of the matter is that there are no FDA-approved therapeutics for COVID-19 just yet. The best possible thing to do now is to get vaccinated. With more cities placing incentives for civilians to get immunized, it is important now more than ever to aid in the collective effort to build herd immunity and reduce further viral mutations.
Maybe you’re a politician who is hungry to revitalize the nation’s economy, or perhaps you’re a salesperson or entrepreneur looking to make a buck or two on holistic medicines. Or, you’re an ordinary citizen who wants to have some control of your own life. But regardless of social status, it is important to recognize that actions lead to consequences. When it comes to untested treatments for life-threatening diseases, the rapid spread of misinformation leads to fatal consequences (Lukpat, 2021). Misinformation is embedded within every facet of our society -- and the healthcare industry is no stranger to this issue -- so discerning what is right from what is wrong may truly make the difference between life or death.
CDC. “Healthcare Workers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/therapeutic-options.html.
“‘Could It Work as a Cure? Maybe.’ A Herbal Remedy for Coronavirus Is a Hit in Africa, But Experts Have Their Doubts.” Time, https://time.com/5840148/coronavirus-cure-covid-organic-madagascar/. Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.
“Covid: Ivermectin, Milk among Indonesia’s Unproven ‘Cures.’” BBC News, 19 July 2021. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-57838033.
Lukpat, Alyssa. “New Mexico Health Officials Link Misuse of Ivermectin to Two Covid-19 Deaths.” The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/09/25/world/covid-delta-variant-vaccine.
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