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Herbalists cashing in on coronavirus panic

…as unscrupulous ones sell bogus concoctions, they claim cures Covid-19

By Patience Ndlovu

FOR Saziso Ncube (58) from Bulawayo’s Mzlikazi suburb, who has cervical cancer, lupus and respiratory illness, her fears have been heightened as the country battles a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has so far claimed over a thousand lives including four serving government ministers.

To her the second wave of the pandemic, is now like a bad memory which has come back to haunt her, as she finds herself among the most at risk once again.

“My life is not in my control. It is controlled by an illness. The Covid-19 pandemic is terrifying for many of us with chronic diseases. I’m really scared. A relative of mine however, recommended herbs to me and my children brought me here (Mkambo market in Makokoba) and I am sure the herbs are going to help me,” said Ncube, while choking back tears.

So as the second wave of the coronavirus marched across the country people with compromised immune systems like that of Ncube are apparently living in perpetual fear.

And because of the costs and their urgent need for medical attention they ended up at Makokoba’s Mkambo market where they are consulting with herbalists and stocking up on traditional remedies.

An investigation by CITE found that due to drug prices surging out of reach for many and second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that is overwhelming the already fragile health care system in the country, those into herbal medicine are experiencing a boom in business.

The investigation also revealed that as herbalists are cashing in on traditional herbs such as Umsuzwane/Zumbani and a whole range of concoctions that use a mixture of guava, mopane leaves, gumtree leaves, ginger, garlic, onions and lemons, at the same time the unscrupulous ones were putting people’s lives at risk by selling fake concoctions they claim cure and prevent Covid-19.

Just like those who are selling hand sanitizers to coronavirus test kits, unscrupulous herbalists are also capitalising on the coronavirus panic and making money selling fake coronavirus cures.

During investigations it emerged that the uncertainty and fear engendered by this incurable, stigmatising and life-threatening disease make people easy prey to promises of cures. For these bogus herbalists, it seems the coronavirus pandemic has been an opportune time to make a killing.

For example, plant leaves which have strong balsamic citrus-like scent believed to be that of Umsuzwane is being sold for US$1 and US$5 per 50g and 250g packet respectively. This is despite the fact there is no medicine nor miracle plant that has been approved to cure or prevent Covid-19.

As the demand soared, CITE discovered that potential clients are sometimes offered free samples as a way of getting them to buy the concoctions, which would later prove to be very expensive.

Taking advantage of the demand, some even distribute thousands of attractive leaflets in front of business houses and bus stands to attract the common people.

Although there is no scientific evidence that the home remedies work, according to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, about 80 percent of Zimbabweans use traditional medicines which still play an important role in meeting basic health care needs of local communities.

A Diabetic patient Abel Ndebele (44) from Emganwini suburb said although there is no known cure for the coronavirus, he was being pushed towards street medicines due to the high costs associated with her condition.

“I have had no option except to turn to these herbalists whose experience I’m not even unaware of. For example, I need at least $US200 a month for drugs and other related costs, but at herbal shops I just pay $2 and I can drink those herbs without a hassle,” he said throwing his hands in the air like one who has been abandoned and forsaken.

Herbalist and director of Musimboti Traditional Science and Technology Institute, Morgan Zimunya said herbalists were recording brisk business as many Zimbabweans have resorted to the use of herbal and other traditional products for “prevention”.

“With the recent surge in reported cases and mortalities from this disease, many Zimbabweans have resorted to the use of herbal and other products for prevention. They are coming to our shops in droves to buy our products. For example, they are asking for things to prepare at home like Umsuzwane tea, ginger and moringa. Even the feedback from our customers has been fantastic and that is a testament that they were good for immunity,” said Zimunya.

He, however, warned people against some unscrupulous herbalists who were profiting from public anxiety to sell “concoctions” with unknown ingredients.

“We are aware of the proliferation of these so-called street herbalists but there is nothing we can do. Our advice as registered herbalists is that people should stop consulting street healers and herbalists as they will expose themselves to danger and at the same time they cannot also get recourse in the event that they are injured,” he warned.

Mr Zimunya also urged people to adhere to covid-19 guidelines such as isolation, social distancing, protective clothing and hygienic standards.

Another herbalist Gogo Moreblessing Ndlovu who operates at Mkambo market concurred with Zimunya saying the virulent second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has boosted her herbal business.

She also issued a strong warning to fake herbalists who mislead people that they have a concoction to cure Covid 19 with the aim of ripping them off their hard-earned cash.

“While we are not celebrating the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic but as a herbalist I can admit that I am recording brisk business as people are coming enmass to my stand to buy herbs to protect themselves against this disease. Our doses start at as low as US$1 and, I tell you, they are effective.

“As a sign that I’m recording brisk business I have contracted many people to sell the herbs for me. This is because many people now prefer traditional herbs than modern medicines considering the cost of consulting a doctor and the known side effects of some of the drugs.

“As for unscrupulous herbalists it’s of major concern. This trend is found in most service providers of all trades. However, we urge people to buy their medicines from registered herbalists,” she said while insisting that her herbs can cure all kinds of ailments.

President of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association, George Kandiero, who also admitted that they have seen a rapid increase in the number of people who are using traditional herbs and medicines as the number of daily reported deaths in the second wave of Covid 19 continues to surge, warned the public not to buy, from the streets and other undesignated areas, traditional medicines sold by unregistered herbal traders.

Herbal medicines are recognised under the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act (Chapter 15:03) and the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe code of ethics makes it mandatory for herbalists or traditional doctors to operate with a license and from a properly registered premise as specified in their license.

Bulawayo health expert Professor Solwayo Ngwenya sternly warned against the use of traditional herbs in the treatment of Covid-19 saying some herbs may cause internal organ damage.

“Covid-19 is a medical disease it needs medical treatment. They must see qualified medical professionals to help them. Some herbs may cause internal organ damage.

“As for home remedies if one is symptomatic should not treat himself or herself at home. Home remedies are called complementary medicine and they are not in the mainstream although people use them from time to time. They are for people who are healthy and inappropriate use may cause more harm than good. For those who are positive they should seek medical help and not stay at home thinking home remedies will help,” warned Prof Ngwenya.

In a statement recently, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga who doubles as the minister of Health and Child Care said the use of traditional herbs including Umsuzwane/Zumbani to treat Covid-19 should be informed by scientific research.

“Yes, it is possible that some traditional medicines can be used to treat Covid-19 however, there is need for scientific researches to be done to ascertain their efficacy,” he said.

The Medical and Mental Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe has also warned the public over social media adverts by some unscrupulous medical practitioners claiming to be able to treat Covid-19 using Ivermectin, Doxycycline and Nano Silver.

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