Birtamod mayor’s misleading remedies for Covid-19 and false claims fact-checked

Injina Panthi / June 9, 2021

Birtamod Municipality Mayor Dhruva Kumar Shiwakoti shows a ‘medicinal pouch’ during a recent interview with Suryodaya TV. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Dhruva Kumar Shiwakoti, the mayor of Birtamod Municipality in Jhapa district, in an interview aired on Suryodaya Television on June 2, 2021 replied to questions from the public.

In the hour-long interview, he spoke about the municipality’s response against the Covid-19 pandemic and recommended several ‘preventive measures’. Video clips of his claims went viral on social media platforms.

South Asia Check has fact-checked four of his claims.

First claim:

Shiwakoti produced a small pouch from the breast pocket of his shirt and claimed that it was a cure for Covid-19. He had been infected with the coronavirus a few months ago. He suggested wrapping up three cubes of camphor, four cloves of garlic and half a spoon of carom seeds in a piece of cotton cloth and sniffing it for five days. He recommended sniffing the pouch through each nostril by closing the other.

South Asia Check had published a fact check of a similar claim on April 29. We debunked the claim that sniffing a mixture of camphor, cloves, carom seeds and eucalyptus oil boosts the blood oxygen level. While camphor helps to open the nose in case of cold; cloves dry the phlegm and carom seed that is used in various medicine helps to ease the respiration, our research found no evidence that the so-called home remedy helps to increase the blood oxygen level.

Second claim:

In the interview, Mayor Shiwakoti has suggested the following home remedy: “Boil a mix of mango leaves, mugwort leaves and holy basil in a pot of water. Remove the leaves and add some Vicks and a cube of camphor into the water and inhale the steam three times a day for three days and it will put Covid into a coma.”

South Asia Check found this claim misleading and baseless.

According to Prakash Gyawali, an Ayurvedic doctor, the claim that inhaling the steam from the concoction can cure Covid-19 is baseless. “Some Covid-19-infected persons may show no or mild symptoms while others may not survive even with ventilator support. Ayurveda hasn’t prescribed such therapy,” he told South Asia Check.

Dr Gyawali said both the Ayurveda and the modern medicine were based on science and proven with evidences. “But some people who prescribe these kinds of remedies on the basis of their own experiences have been wrongly attributing such remedies to the Ayurveda. These prescriptions are not found in the classical text of the Ayurveda,” he said.

Gyawali, who is also the president of the Ayurveda Doctors Association of Nepal, said he enquired about these home remedies with fellow doctors but they also couldn’t find any such remedy in the Ayurvedic literature.

Nepal Ayurvedic Medical Council has published a code of conduct according to which the doctors registered with the council can speak “only on the basis of facts.”

“He [the mayor] cannot prescribe medicines, whether authentic or not,” Dr Gyawali added.

“These kinds of remedies give people a false sense of security and can prove fatal because they do not seek medical attention on time. And by the time they reach hospital, they are already sick with a severe pneumonia and their survival becomes difficult despite best efforts,” he said.  

He recommends strictly following the Ayurveda protocol issued by the government.   

Third claim:

Mayor Shiwakoti claimed that wearing a mask is a crime. He said: “When we wear a mask it retains the exhaled air, which is again inhaled and this affects the lungs.”

After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, false claims about mask have been circulating worldwide and scientists and experts have busted such claims.

Reuters, a global news agency, in its report quoted the representative from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as saying: “The CO2 will slowly build up in the mask over time. However, the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it….It is unlikely that wearing a mask will cause hypercapnia.”

Hypercapnia is a condition arising from too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood.

Also, the Word Health Organization has said medical mask can cause discomfort when used for a long time, but it neither leads to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency.

Greg Schmidt, an intensive care unit physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the US, said unlike the droplets carrying Covid-19 virus, the oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules are very tiny and easily pass through the mask. In a video published on the university’s website, he shows that the blood oxygen level does not change even after wearing a mask for several hours.

Fourth claim:

“Mothers, fathers and sisters if you are wearing gold rings then avoid them because they attract the virus quickly.”

Shiwakoti’s claim that gold is a carrier of the virus is also misleading.

The mayor seems to have expressed his opinion without consulting experts. Covid-19 transmits mainly through respiratory droplets when a Covid-19 infected person sneezes, coughs, breathes, speaks or sings. It also transmits through close contact with an infected person. Recent studies have shown that Covid-19 virus hangs in the air, infecting anyone who breathes it. A long-form story published in the Wired magazine says a scientific error [in the definition of what is an aerosol] made almost 60 years ago has caused the confusion about how virus travels in the air. After dismissing the possibility of airborne transmission for many months, the WHO and the CDC recently corrected their advisories saying Covid-19 can be airborne.

It is still possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects, according to studies. But according to the CDC, the relative risk of fomite [inanimate objects such as dish, doorknob, clothing, etc] transmission of Covid-19 is considered low compared with direct contact, droplet transmission or airborne transmission.

The science journal Nature also mentioned that Covid-19 rarely transmits through surfaces. It is suggested to sanitize the jewelries while washing hands. Although the coronavirus can stick on jewelry, the mayor’s claim that gold ring attracts the virus quickly is unfounded.

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