Desperation, fake news fuel unproven COVID-19 therapies: expert

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The use of unproven therapies to manage and treat COVID-19 in Africa is attributed partly to desperation and the spread of fake news especially through the internet, according to Professor Lucille Blumberg, the Deputy Director of the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Blumberg said in a discussion with the World Health Organization (WHO) that many patients on the continent were pushed to using the unproven methods due to “the fear of COVID-19, family and patient pressure, a desperate need to do something especially if the patient is very ill, as well as the absence of national guidelines.”

“Fake news, social media and internet searches are especially problematic. The publication of poorly conducted “studies” especially those that are not adequately reviewed or published “in context” or studies that get published in journals that are not considered reliable as well as studies whose results are overstated or misinterpreted by the reader. Small studies that have limited participants and studies that don’t compare treatments to the best available ones also add to the problem,” she added.

Blumberg noted that it was difficult to know just how widespread the use of the unproven treatment methods were, adding that many drugs were purchased outside of formal pharmacies and there is no documentation of their use.

Some of the drugs that have been fronted for possible treatment of COVID-19 include ivermectin, colchicine, chloroquine, dihydrochloroquine, hydrogen peroxide, antimalaria drugs such as artemisinin.

“This results in a waste of resources, loss of faith in the medical system and gives false hopes while providing no improvement in illness,” said Blumberg.

She said medical education was key in efforts to curb further use of the unproven COVID-19 treatment methods.

She also called for guidance regarding reliable sites and guidelines where health professionals and communities can access information.

“Regulatory authorities in countries need to be involved and not bow to pressure to “approve” unproven medications,” she noted.

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