Eucalyptus necklace and other unproven Covid-19 cures raise alarm in Indonesia

Indonesia's Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo had announced his ministry would begin mass producing an anti-Covid necklace made of eucalyptus. PHOTO: ROBERT BAIRD/TWITTER

JAKARTA - 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-edge stem cell therapies.

These were among a litany of claims of Covid-19 cures in Indonesia that have alarmed doctors and the consumer protection foundation.

The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), in a letter earlier this month to State Secretary Pratikno, expressed concerns over plans to produce anti-coronavirus medicines that had not passed clinical trials. The State Secretary is a key aide to President Joko Widodo and is involved in the day-to-day running of the government.

In Indonesia, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the equivalent of the United States 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 reportedly inhibit the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

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 situation such as a pandemic.

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

YLKI chairman Tulus Abadi noted that many of the claims of Covid-19 cures increasingly being circulated 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 announced that his ministry would begin mass producing an anti-Covid-19 necklace made of eucalyptus in August. He claimed that 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, Mr Fadjry Djufry, backtracked, saying that the products - which included hand-held inhalers and roll-ons - 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.

In a recent webinar involving medical doctors, Dr Lucia Rizka Andalusia, the drug registration director at BPOM, said the agency would not close the door to creativity in efforts to find and use effective herbal traditional medicines against Covid-19, but emphasised that it must ensure safety.

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

Administering drugs, herbal medicines and 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" for medical doctors, he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.