Coronavirus pandemic

Eucalyptus necklace among 'cures' raising alarm in Indonesia

A minister touted a necklace made of eucalyptus while researchers, including from the national intelligence agency, announced the discovery of a combination of drugs and cutting age stem cell therapies.

These were among a litany of claims of Covid-19 cures in Indonesia which has alarmed doctors as well as the consumer protection foundation.

The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) has written to state secretary Pratikno, expressing concerns over plans to produce anti-coronavirus medicines that have not passed clinical trials. The state secretary is a key aide to the president and is involved in the day-to-day running of the government.

In Indonesia, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the equivalent to the US Food and Drug Administration, conducts extensive clinical trials to ensure the safety and efficacy of any proposed new drug.

Last month, researchers at Airlangga University in East Java province and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) announced the discovery of five combinations of drugs to fight Covid-19 as well as two types of stem cell therapies that apparently inhibit the coronavirus, which causes the disease.

The announcement was criticised by doctors who were also perplexed by the involvement of an intelligence agency in a medical endeavour.

Responding to the joint announcement by BIN and the university, Dr Pandu Riono, who teaches at the University of Indonesia's medical school, issued a reminder that public safety should remain paramount even during an emergency such as a pandemic.

He also appealed to government agencies to operate within their respective spheres and never to ignore science.

YLKI's chairman Tulus Abadi noted that many of the claims of Covid-19 cures in circulation were in fact "unlicensed and whose effectiveness has not been scientifically proven".

"BPOM must increase monitoring and warn the parties making such claims that they are not based on required clinical trials. Even if the claim was made by a minister," he said.

Last week, Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo said his ministry would begin mass producing an anti-Covid necklace made of eucalyptus in August. He claimed it could kill 80 per cent of the virus in a patient in just half an hour.

A few days later, the ministry's research and development head, Dr Fadjry Djufry, backtracked, saying the products - which include hand-held inhalers and rolls-on - were merely for aromatherapy.

He said they would not be labelled as anti-viral although they could treat known Covid-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath.

The drug registration director at BPOM, Dr Lucia Rizka Andalusia, has said it would not block efforts to find and use effective herbal, traditional medicines against Covid-19, but emphasised that the agency must ensure safety.

However, the independent Indonesian Doctors Council chairman, Dr Sukman Tulus, has issued a warning to his colleagues.

"Medical doctors who during their practice administer drugs, herbal medicines, traditional healing substances that are not yet licensed and do not have clear standards would amount to a breach of professional duty and even a breach of law," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2020, with the headline 'Eucalyptus necklace among 'cures' raising alarm in Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe