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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Why not try traditional medicine, steam inhalation in Covid-19 fight?

 

I think we are depending too much on the promise of vaccines to defeat Covid-19.

From day one, the cry has been “wait for the vaccine” or “vaccine is coming” and it has raised the hopes of Malaysians too high. I fear our hopes may be in for a terrible crash as none of them is 100% effective and we really don’t know the long-term effects.

Moreover, the vaccination programme will only begin in March and is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early next year.

What is to happen in the meantime? The government tells us the health ministry’s capacity to handle the rising Covid-19 cases is at near-breaking point. In fact that was the reason given by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in seeking a proclamation of emergency on Jan 11. Leaving aside the facilities, how long can our over-worked frontliners last?

Yesterday, there were 3,585 cases and 11 deaths. The cumulative total number of deaths stands at 700 and cases at 190,434. There are predictions that daily cases could go up to even 8,000 a day in March.

I have always wondered if governments are chasing the vaccine and pinning their hopes on it simply because they want to – or need to – show their people they are doing something.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the promise of a vaccine was the rage. Every government touted it as though the disease would vanish or be effectively neutralised once the vaccines were in the market.

Even today, many governments, including our own, are putting their hopes on, and praying, that the vaccines work. As nothing else seems to have worked, and as the virus continues wreaking havoc, governments are under tremendous pressure to be seen doing something to save their people.

The truth is, the vaccine is not going to immediately end the pandemic. Even if we are vaccinated, we would still have to do what we are doing now – wash hands, wear masks, practice physical distancing.

We should not, therefore, depend on vaccines alone or see it as the magic wand that will cause Covid-19 to vanish. We should look at various methods of handling the disease.

That is why I am glad to hear that the health ministry has begun two drug trials involving the easily available Favipiravir and Ivermectin..

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a Facebook post yesterday that Favipiravir had shown effectiveness against the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection “within a range of therapeutic dose” in several in-vitro studies but that the use of the drug for those at risk of deterioration was not fully studied.

A team of three specialists led by Dr Chuah Chuan Huan, Dr Suresh Kumar Chidambaram and Dr Mahiran Mustafa are carrying out the Favipiravir drug trial while the Ivermectin drug trial is being conducted by another team led by Dr Cheah Wee Kooi, Dr Suresh Kumar and Dr Mahiran.

Noor Hisham said Ivermectin was a US Food and Drugs Administration-approved “broad spectrum anti-parasitic agent” and that it had been “repurposed” to fight Covid-19 with “equivocal clinical outcomes”.

The first drug trial involves 500 patients while the second involves 400. Both studies, at 11 designated hospitals, are collaborative efforts between the ministry’s infectious disease specialists and the Institute for Clinical Research.

This is good news. If the trials prove positive, we have on our hands drugs that are so much cheaper than vaccines and which are easily available.

Ivermectin is a medicine used on livestock and people infected by parasitic worms. Some doctors claim it is effective in reducing Covid-19 deaths, with a few calling it a “wonder drug”. Several small clinical trials, including in India and Spain, suggest Ivermectin can reduce in-hospitality mortality rates.

Favipiravir, an anti-viral drug, has shown promising results in Covid-19 clinical studies in countries such as India, China, Japan and Russia and some of them, including India and China, have approved it for use against Covid-19.

While it is carrying out the two drug trials, the government should also study alternative therapies, not just stick to allopathic medicine.

I’m pleased to note that Thailand has turned to herbs in its fight against Covid-19. It is using the Andrographis Paniculata plant, commonly known as green chiretta, to cut both the severity of the disease and costs. Five public hospitals are carrying this out as a pilot project.

According to the Thai health ministry, human trials show that the condition of patients improved within three days if the medicine was given within 72 hours of testing positive. And no side effects were reported.

I urge the health ministry to contact the Thai health ministry, if it hasn’t yet, to get more details and try it here too.

Also, why don’t our medical experts – whether in hospitals or universities – carry out experiments to check the efficacy of home Covid-19 remedies such as steam inhaling? It shouldn’t take too long to test this, given the availability of patients.

I know, steam inhalation has generally been poo-pooed by western experts and pharmaceutical giants. I suspect it is because there is no money to be made in this, unlike in a vaccine. Can you imagine how many people – including middlemen and officials arranging vaccines for their country – will become rich with the vaccine rollout?

On the other hand, no one is going to make money if home remedies are touted as possible solutions.

Traditional medicine practitioners in India have been recommending steam inhalation for a while now. For instance, the Jogi Ayurved Hospital in Surat, India, says it has experimented with Covid-19 patients and finds steam inhalation effective.

I recently saw a viral video in which Jogi Ayurved founder Nilesh Jogal claims steam inhalation for two minutes, twice a day has prevented his entire staff from infection despite being in touch with more than 4,000 Covid-19 patients.

And a recent published study by researchers at the Biochemistry and Pharmacology Laboratory, Meyer Children’s University Hospital in Florence, Italy, says steam inhalation can help mitigate the SARS-CoV-2 infection. The small initial study – on 10 patients – is published in the journal Life Sciences.

This is what the researchers say: “The study protocol consisted of exposure of airway mucosae to humidified steam through inhalation for at least 20 minutes (four cycles of 5 min or five cycles of 4 min) within one hour, with a temperature maintained between 55 and 65 degree centigrade in the first 4/5 min after initiation of water boiling (experimental measurements in triplicate).

“The patient was asked to drape the towel over the back of his/her head lowering towards the hot steam down to about 25 to 30cm from the water.

“The primary outcome was a reduction of viral shedding after four days (at least six cycle threshold values measured with RT-PCR) and the secondary outcome complete virus elimination after the four-day protocol.”

Now that is promising news, surely.

I urge the health ministry to conduct its own trials – I’m sure it will find thousands of volunteers – to see if this dirt cheap, home remedy is effective. And it should do it fast, not wait till June or the end of the year.

Imagine how many people can help themselves to be safe if it works. And there are no side effects. The government won’t need to spend billions on vaccines and the health system won’t be stretched.

The ministry should clearly state that it is not a cure, just an aid in the fight against Covid-19. But to ensure people don’t harm themselves or scald themselves, the ministry should come up with guidelines.

Don’t see this is as possibly causing an embarrassment. Also, don’t consider looking at alternatives – especially in Siddha, Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicine – as “unscientific”. Move away from the mindset that only expensive allopathic medicine works and look at combining different therapies.

The only criteria for consideration is this: Does it work and is it safe? - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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