Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites (sclera) of the eyes.
Newborns with jaundice, medically called neonatal jaundice, are easily identified with yellowing of the palms of the hands and/ or soles of the feet, yellow urine instead of being colourless; pale-coloured pooh instead of being yellow or orange.
These symptoms, among some others, usually develop between 2 to 3 days after birth and tend to get better without treatment by the time the baby is about 2 weeks old. In fact, about half of all newborns develop mild jaundice in the first few days. In premature babies, jaundice may start early and last longer than in full-term babies. But if bilirubin levels become extremely high, complications such as brain damage (kernicterus), cerebral palsy, and deafness can occur. Little wonder parents, especially mothers, seek for all means to prevent or cure their babies of this medical condition, not giving a second thought to what the side effects of any of the preventive or curative measures taken can be. But, is it really true that unripe pawpaw water does the cure?
From time immemorial, there has been the assumption and belief that there are natural remedies to jaundice, one of such being that unripe pawpaw water cures neonatal jaundice fast. For instance, a recent post on a Facebook account claims that unripe pawpaw water is efficient in curing neonatal jaundice. Also, a popular Nigerian blog, legit.ng, while highlighting benefits of unripe pawpaw fruit, water and seeds, noted that one of the advantages of unripe pawpaw water includes the cure for jaundice.
The Facebook message posted on Sunday, August 2, 2020:
DEBUNKING THIS CLAIM
A Consultant Neonatologist at the University College Hospital (UCH), University of Ibadan, Dr Olukemi Tongo, said the claim of such a cure is false.
“There are lots of myths out there about green pawpaw water, pawpaw leaves and all that……those things are not treatments for jaundice in babies. It will delay the baby receiving correct treatment; you may even be giving the child contaminated water in the name of giving……this traditional medicine and all that”. She explained that neonatal jaundice requires appropriate treatment by qualified doctors, as such medical experts would know what level the jaundice is in the neonate and also approve the right treatment for such.
Furthermore, in a published interview by The Eagle Online in 2018, a Consultant Pediatrician with Holy Family Pediatric Hospital, Osogbo in Osun State, Dr Kayode Valentine, also sounded the same warning that using unripe pawpaw water is not an antidote to jaundice. He noted that if jaundice was not well treated, it could cause death of the baby or make the baby handicapped due to brain damage from excess bilirubin that entered the baby’s brain.
Moreover, a Nigerian Journal on Clinical published April 6, 2013, noted that “there was also the misconception that water extract from paw-paw was used as treatment of neonatal jaundice and that neonatal jaundice is a common disorder worldwide and one of the important contributors to the high neonatal morbidity and mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
There are several reasons why this claim appears dangerous, according to Dr. Tongo. They include the following:
- First, there is no medical backing to such spoof. It is medically wrong to administer such medication to a newborn whose system is not fully developed.
- Second, there is also risk in administering contaminated water to the neonate in the name of medication.
- Third, the child could have a damaged brain in the process. Unknown to the mother of the child administering the unripe pawpaw water, the child’s brain could be damaged and deformed later in life.
According to Dr Valentine, there is also the danger of losing the child to the cold hands of death. Both medical experts established the fact that administering unauthorized medications could cause brain damage or death of the child, hence, the need to often embrace medical treatments from qualified medical experts.
Medical experts do not agree with the claim that unripe pawpaw water can cure jaundice. Also, experts warn against ingesting newborn babies with pawpaw water, as such action has adverse effects on the newborn organs, kidneys and livers are not yet mature to handle these substances. Hence, the claim that the soaking or boiling of unripe pawpaw water cures jaundice is unproven.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in Journalism and enhance Media Literacy in the Country.