A visible big gap has been created by the international healthcare associations and the Pakistani government with more than approximately 220 million population of the country about the prevention and cure of the Novel Coronavirus. And this gap has been easily filled by different individuals using social media platforms telling the people about the use of some herbs to get a cure or use them as preventive medicine against the COVID-19.

There is no doubt that Pakistan is one of several countries in the world where traditional medications and herbs are very common and popular as a prescription against different diseases.

The lockdowns of cities, social distancing, and banning different means of transportations were amongst the major preventive measures suggested by the international healthcare associations and adopted by majority countries around the world. Some countries have successfully overcome the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 by adopting these measures. However, in Pakistan, the number of infected persons is on the rise since the first person tested positive on February 26 this year.

Keeping a social distance of minimum 3ft, stop going to a general gathering including matrimonial ceremonies, funerals, shopping malls, and worship places until a vaccine is developed, seems an unrealistic solution against the Coronavirus. Already lockdown has crippled Pakistan’s economy with some sectors related to transportation and hospitality are hit very hard, rendering thousands of people jobless.

The argument of social distancing and lockdown may be affective for New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, and several other European countries that have populations less than Karachi or Lahore cities, besides they have different social and cultural norms, in addition to their healthy economies.

For Pakistanis, this situation has become the proverbial, devil, and the deep sea. If people, especially those depending on a daily earning stay at home, some of them may die of hunger and malnutrition. Hence, the feasibility of a complete lockdown is very low. Therefore, the second option is to end or ease lockdown, which the PTI-led government has already adopted, resulting in the rapid spread of the COVID-19 in the country.

With the complex situation, the reality is that a large number of Pakistanis would not be able to avoid infection from the pandemic and it will continue spreading until a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed. But until the vaccine is prepared and cure against the virus is found, what the people of the country should do? The answer is simple – they will rely on untested herbs which are in use for centuries against various diseases.

Sana Makki or Senna Leaves tea recently got popularity in Pakistan after several videos have gone viral on social media about its efficacy to get cure or use it as preventive medicine against the COVID-19. Besides some traditional medication from honey, ginger, garlic, lemon, oranges, green chilies, black seeds, and neem leaves to avoid COVID-19 is suggested by several other individuals through social media platforms.

The first individual who recommended a drug and attempted to fill the gap between the peoples and the international healthcare organizations was US President Trump who suggested that hydroxychloroquine could be used as preventive medicine for COVID-19. The world took his suggestion seriously but later scientists cautioned peoples about the use of hydroxychloroquine by saying that the search on the medicine has not yet been carried out.

Then Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina claimed to have found a preventive and cure within seven days against the disease in COVID-Organics tea. But, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised people against using the untested herbal remedy, which is produced from Artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy against malaria, and other indigenous herbs.

On June 3, a large number of people took to the streets in Kabul against the Afghanistan government’s decision of stopping “Unani Hakim” or herbal medicines practitioner Alokozi to treat patients with Coronavirus. Angry protesters in their comments broadcast by several news channels said that the patients were getting better with the herbal medicines and flayed the Afghan government for shutting down his treatment center.

The international healthcare organisations say that this virus is novel and they are observing and obtaining new details about the behavior of COVID-19. And they are coordinating with several countries which scrambling to find a cure for the virus.

But, the scientists and international healthcare bodies did not give a timeframe to have confirmed remedy available to everyone against the Coronavirus. Some of the statements suggest that the development of vaccines for COVID-19 may take a year or two.

To wait for a longer period is indeed difficult as the spread of the virus is very fast in Pakistan. According to the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department sample survey carried out recently in Lahore, an estimated 670,000 out of 12 million population have asymptomatic COVID-19.

“We have the preventive medicines as well as a cure for the Coronavirus patients at any stage,” the National Council for Homeopathic President Dr. Mahmood Ul Haq Abbasi claimed. “I have written letters to the prime minister, president, provincial chief ministers and governors, National Disaster Management Authority, WHO, and offer our services, but did get any response from them.”

Dr. Abbasi said that even they offered a homeopathic hospital situated at Barakhu in Islamabad where the patients would be provided free of cost treatment, but the government did not pay any heed.

“I have treated more than 20 Coronavirus patients living in Peshawar and abroad,” claimed a Peshawar-based senior homeopathic practitioner Dr. Nisar Orakzai. He said homeopathic treatment is based on “vital force” or immune system and medicines are suggested according to the patients’ symptoms and conditions.

“Enhancing immunity against the diseases is indeed important for treatment in the novel Coronavirus,” said Dr. Professor Abdul Hannan, former vice-chancellor of Hamdard University in Karachi.

Dr. Hanan, who is a Ph.D. in Tibb e Unani (herbal treatment) and currently serving as Director of Research and Development at the university’s laboratory, lamented that unlike other countries, there is no government recognized research facility in Pakistan to work on different herbs. He called upon the people to take any herbal medicine only on the recommendation of an authentic practitioner of herbal treatment.

Requests for comment from Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, advisor to PM on health, and Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid have not been answered.

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Shafiq Ahmad

Shafiq Ahmad is a Pakistani writer, who appears frequently as a political and geopolitical analyst in different local and international news channels. He can be reached @ email: shafiqstatesman@hotmail.com , phone: +923009597043