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Weekly Newsletter on the Ongoing Infodemic: May 18, 2020

5 mins read

What’s the cost of an open-mind during a pandemic?

The scramble for Africa is a great way to describe the invasion of African territories by Western powers for centuries. Early aggressive European incursions meant that Africa lost parts of its resources, culture and native civilisation. In the medical field, economic and political agendas tainted colonial views of African traditional medicine; hence, people ridiculed, banned and demonised these remedies.

Later, what felt like progress, when Western researchers took an interest in studying botanical medicines was simply the rise of parachute researchers. A person (usually Western) who does primary research about another country (particularly a low-income or middle-income country), spends little time in that country, makes use of limited local infrastructure, personnel and patients, and then flies home to write an academic paper (sometimes, poorly informed) for a prestigious journal.

Now, when the end of the world appears to be looming, and everyone is desperate for a remedy, it is perfect timing for local cures to be fully embraced. However, the proverbial hand still hovers over the mouth of voices that preach caution, and for a good reason. After all, African herbs have saved generations; western science is confusing. Worse still, capitalism still drives the pharmaceutical industry. Yet, people are DYING! 

In the past week, there has been a proliferation of online posts suggesting local remedies as cures to coronavirus in Nigeria. In truth, this surge in covid-cure-related trends is not unconnected to the recent discovery of “a cure” by Madagascar. The efficacy of the treatment is championed by Madagascar’s president, who stated that 105 patients had been healed after taking “no other products than covid-organics.” Madagascar has reported 171 coronavirus infections and 105 recoveries to date, with no deaths.

African leaders also endorsed the organic drink, falsely writes a Facebook user, perhaps in a bid for legitimacy. Another accused the Federal Government of being unfair to local researchers and scientists; after all, they had come up with potent herbal and natural products that could be used to treat or manage COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has said that despite Nigeria’s earnest search for a cure for COVID-19, it is yet to receive any pharmaceutical or herbal drugs for analysis of their efficacy

“NAFDAC as at the time of this press release has only received an application from one company for a product the company is presenting for approval to the agency for the treatment of the symptoms of COVID-19, and not for the cure of COVID-19 as a disease”, said the Director-General, NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye. 

Another claims that anyone can make the Madagascar drink, simply boiling neem leaf (dogonyaro), papaya, leaf, lime orange, garlic and ginger. And the list goes on and on.

Safety, not geography

While African herbal remedies appear to be constantly frowned upon, it could be argued that the burden is not much about the location, but the ability to prove, at a minimum, safety for all patients. Whether or not the ability to conduct clinical trials can then be counter-argued as a limitation on African herbalists, one cannot dispute the rationale behind the need to evaluate efficacy (how well the treatment works) and most importantly, safety (side effects) of drugs.

In criminal law, Blackstone’s ratio (also known as the Blackstone ratio or Blackstone’s formulation) is the idea that: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This rationale is somewhat applicable to medical practice. Many plants have been found to be poisonous; and even in Western societies, drugs have been recalled when found to have side effects. For instance, popular Zantac was recently recalled after a study showed a connection to the development of stomach cancer. Even the now-famed chloroquine was once banned as a first-line treatment drug for malaria in Nigeria in 2005, owing to high treatment failures resulting from drug resistance.

The need for a cure should not trump our sense of collective safety. We welcome unstifled innovation while de-emphasising quick fixes that could potentially cause more harm than good.

[Interested in knowing more about clinical trials? See these articles on the process in the United States and Nigeria.]

Coronavirus Q & A

  • Which coronavirus apps are available for public use?

Since health authorities are yet to establish a cure for the new coronavirus, technologists have devised a new way to reduce the spread of the virus which includes building apps. These Apps which are useful in the area of contact tracing, are available in many countries. Their design and functionality, however, differ from one country to another. While some apps have been identified as lightweight and temporary, others are pervasive and invasive.

Some of the available apps are GH COVID-19 Tracker, COVIDSafe, StoppCorona, VirusSafe, Chinese health code system, CovTracer, eRouska, Ketju, CoronaApp, Rakning C-19, Aarogya Setu. (find the reviews of these apps and many more here)

  • Are travel restrictions still in place?

As a response to the pandemic, many countries have decided to restrict movements; commanding total or partial lockdown.  This was necessary as the new coronavirus thrives on human interactions – an infected person (showing symptoms or not) can easily transmit the virus to another person.  Therefore, the restriction is necessary to reduce the spread of the virus and to allow the health authorities to track carriers and people they have been in contact with.

However, while some nations have started relaxing their lockdown, many are still observing the restrictions. This website shows countries and their travel restriction status.

  • Do I need to wash fruits and vegetables with soap and water?

Although health organizations have promoted good hygiene as a way of protecting oneself from contracting the virus, washing fruits and vegetables with soap and water is one step too far and can be hazardous. Hence, it is not advisable to wash your edibles with any kind of soap as consumption of soap can lead to nausea, diarrhoea or abdominal pain.

Times of India has provided an answer to this question here while debunking a similar claim by a Michigan Doctor.

  • Does Lassa fever kill more Nigerians than coronavirus?

Lassa Fever is a zoonotic disease which acquired its name from a community -Lassa Community – in Borno State, where it was first reported in Nigeria. Since then, Nigeria has continued to deal with its outbreaks and just like COVID-19, it is equally deadly. According to DailyTrust which traced its discovery to 51 years ago, Lassa Fever was responsible for 71 deaths in 2017, 171 in 2018, 167 in 2019. Recently, this year, Nigeria has recorded 188 deaths from 963 confirmed cases within 3 months.

However, COVID-19 is new, and Nigeria has just recorded 171 deaths as at 15th of May.

Tip of the Week

#FakeNews Alert

You need to question every report that comes your way to identify the fake one. For this particular claim, ask yourself: Is this true? Is the news platform credible? What are reliable sources saying? Check also for false attribution – the headline was attributed to someone, find out who he is, where and when he made a claim.

By now, claims about cures for COVID-19 should be taken with scepticism and be stopped from spreading further. This is because health authorities are yet to establish a specific treatment for the deadly disease. Check here for several claims about COVID-19 cure that have been fact-checked.

A picture, they say is worth more than a thousand words, but in this digital age, it could also tell you a thousand lies and get spread across the net in the twinkle of an eye. Images have contributed a lot to the invention and circulation of misinformation; they can easily be manipulated, distorted or reinvented to tell different stories. Therefore, before you share that photo-claim verify! (see how to verify images here.)

Ebele Oputa is a frontline leader who helps organizations do new things or do existing things more efficiently. She has provided strategic, technical and programmatic oversight as well as editorial support of Dubawa since its inception. She is an experienced Programme Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry including the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Skilled in Negotiation, Training, Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Communications, Ebele has a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on International Trade and Commercial Law from Durham University.

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