PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Despite the health ministry's warning, false information on Covid-19 and bogus remedies for the disease remain rampant in Malaysia.
Herbs, healing oils, honey and home-made concoctions - these are some of the "preventive medicines" being talked about among Malaysians.
The Sabah state, which consistently recorded four-figure cases in Malaysia's third wave of Covid-19 infections, seems to be also a hotspot for baseless homemade cures and remedies.
Covid-19 patients said they are often bombarded with misinformation on how to treat the virus, ranging from a concoction of water with sliced lemon and garlic cloves to drinking a local distilled rice wine called montoku.
A former Covid-19 patient, who recalled how a relative shared with him an "important" tip, described it as "nothing but nonsense".
"The tip is to take a young coconut, mix its juice with lime and a spoon of salt before drinking this and seeing the result in an hour. It was supposed to cure me of the virus in just one hour, " said the man, who declined to be named.
He said although the "tip" sounded like nonsense, it was shared quite widely in his other WhatsApp groups.
"Imagine the whole world struggling to find a cure for Covid-19 and all we need is just this simple method, " he said with a laugh.
Another patient, who had also recently recovered from the virus, said among the many "genius" ideas she has heard of, one stood out quite remarkably in her mind.
"My aunt kept telling me to try montoku. She told me that someone she knows apparently got well enough to be discharged from the hospital a few days after drinking montoku. How crazy is that?" she said.
She said the aunt even kept telling her to try and get someone to send her some montoku while she was being warded in the hospital for the virus.
She said while she understood her aunt's concern, she stopped entertaining the relative after a few days after it got too annoying.
"I only started to talk to her again after I was discharged from the hospital, " said the woman.
Other weird remedies are to mix a raw egg with orange-flavoured soft drink and drink it once before bedtime and again at dawn before taking a bath.
A viral post on Facebook had a man claiming that he cured himself of Covid-19 by drinking the concoction besides imbibing warm water mixed with lime juice thrice daily, taking two Panadols in the morning, afternoon and night, rubbing eucalyptus oil on his chest and sniffing it all the time for a few days.
A doctor at the Women and Children's Hospital in Likas near here said while he had never encountered such queries from his patients, he advised those with such ideas to first get more evidence for their theories.
"For those who wish to believe these remedies, you should first get more local scientific research done from universities and specialists for proof, " he said.
He said everyone could take supplement and food that would boost their immune system.
"But it is not advisable to blindly believe what they read in social media platforms, " he said, adding even then, supplement and immune boosting food should be taken in small and appropriate doses.
In a tweet on Oct 22, the Health Ministry reminded Malaysians that "there is no cure for #Covid-19 so far. If there are parties selling products that claim to be able to treat Covid-19, it is fake".
Yet, it has not stopped "snake-oil salesman" from offering services to treat Covid-19.
In Kuala Lumpur, these salesmen have put up a banner offering "telemedicine" and free services related to "Covid-19 vaccine".
A picture of the banner was posted last month by a Twitter user named Hafiz, who was amused by it. When contacted later, Hafiz said the banner had since been removed.
A chain message about how a mixture of coconut water, lime and salt can supposedly cure Covid-19 has been making its rounds in WhatsApp chatgroups.
In July, a woman promoting an anti-Covid-19 bracelet for RM600 (S$197.1) a piece was slapped with a RM50,000 compound for her bogus claim.
Sellers now appear to be more mindful about their claims but some continue to promote their products as an aid to Covid-19 prevention.
An online seller promoting bottled fig and olive oil, who only wants to be known as Saiful, claimed when contacted that the remedies he sells can be used as a means to "prevent from getting infected by Covid-19".
"We are selling a miracle oil set, which can be used as a means to prevent from Covid-19 infection and a remedy for those who have stroke or cholesterol, with added health benefits for the heart, intestines, kidney and lungs, " he claimed.
None of these claims are backed by medical or scientific evidence and neither did Saiful reveal the content of the miracle oil set.
Even Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah became a target for these baseless claims when about two weeks ago, someone wrote to his Twitter account: "Please consume pineapple and lemon as a juice. It can help prevent our body from the virus. #KitaJagaKita."
Teluk Intan Hospital Emergency and Trauma Department head Dr Samsu Ambia Ismail, who was himself infected by Covid-19 in April, said he was once advised to try ketum juice as a treatment.
"The person did not even have any prior exposure to Covid-19 so how can he know that it can become a remedy?" he said in an interview.
Dr Samsu said although there was alternative medicine such as ayurvedic or Chinese traditional treatment, there had been no scientific evidence that he was aware of that could currently help fight against Covid-19.
"People can opt for alternative medicine for health purposes but should not neglect proper medical treatment, especially when it comes to Covid-19.
"It is dangerous when Covid-19 patients get late-stage treatment, especially if they are in the high-risk group, " he warned.
Malaysian Public Health Physicians' Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said: "It is unethical and illegal. They are giving customers false hope and taking their money with a possibility of endangering their life."
Most viral infections, according to Dr Zainal, either resolved by itself or slowly disappeared from the body through a person's antibody developed by the infected person himself.
"The immunity, human resistance and ability to fight the virus will depend on the person's health as well as nutritional status and the presence of chronic or immunosuppressive conditions," he said.
"Covid-19 infection is a viral disease; it is not bacteria which can be killed by antibiotics. Antiviral drugs do not kill the virus but inhibit its development."
Dr Zainal urged authorities to closely monitor sellers who claimed that their products could cure or prevent Covid-19 infection and take stern action against them.