Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
TRADITIONAL herbs and steaming have become popular home remedies against Covid-19 which has killed 772 people in Zimbabwe.
Social media platforms are daily awash with messages on the efficacy of Covid-19 home remedies such as steaming with Umsuzwane/Zumbane, guava, mango or gumtree leaves as well as drinking ginger, garlic and lemon concoctions.
After steaming, most people drink the mixtures when they have cooled down.
The popularity of the plant-based remedy has also turned many residents into business people as they are selling 50g packets of Umsuzwane for US$1.
Others are selling Umsuzwane tea for US$5 per 250g packet.
Although there is no scientific evidence that the home remedies work, many people who have recovered from the pandemic have confirmed using the home remedies and some believe they have been able to protect themselves from infection using the same remedies.
Steaming at least twice a day with traditional herbs is prescribed by advocates of indigenous knowledge systems.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, about 80 percent of Zimbabweans use traditional medicines which still play an important role in meeting basic health care needs of local communities.
It remains the most affordable and easily accessible source of therapeutic treatment in the primary healthcare system for members of the public.
With the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant, traditional experts have said steaming can kill the virus especially if people add essential oils like Eucalyptus and Spearmint.
Although Scientific research says nothing about proven efficacy of these remedies, traditionalists say such remedies have been used for centuries even before the emergence of modern medicine.
One of the messages circulating reportedly emanating from overwhelmed doctors countrywide states that Covid-19 variants become significantly weakened after heating at 56 °C for 15 and 30 min in liquid environments respectively.
“That’s why it is very important to take steam, which reaches the back of your paranasal sinus. You have to kill this virus in the nose with steam. At 50°C, this virus becomes disabled or paralysed. At 60°C this virus becomes so weak that any human immunity system can fight against it. At 70°C this virus dies completely,” read the message.
Renowned historian Mr Pathisa Nyathi says Africans had always survived in the past using their traditional herbs and plants hence they cannot be discarded as useless.
He said steaming was also an integral part of home remedies which can also work to boost one’s immune system and protect the individuals from viruses.
Mr Nyathi said it was important for people to value their traditional knowledge systems even in the wake of global pandemics whose cure can only be certified after scientific research.
“I think it is important for us to be aware of what has been part of our lifestyle even before we were introduced to mainstream medicine.
“I also believe that just because umsuzwane is readily available does not mean it cannot be sold, that will be undermining the value of our traditional ways of dealing with ailments,’ said Mr Nyathi.
“However, since we still cannot access the cure for this global pandemic, people can steam and use readily available natural remedies as they have been helpful in the past,” he said.
A Bulilima-based traditional healer Mr Obert Vundla said steaming is highly recommended and has been a popular practice for many healers.
“We usually use intelezi, iwohlo that grows next to water bodies, iphunga and these are the readily available plants and herbs.
“We have also been using umsuzwane for steaming to protect people from ailments.
“Members of the public should steam regularly as the activity boosts the immune system and tends to deal with all ailments,” said Mr Vundla.
Bulawayo health expert Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said people could use the natural remedies based on their beliefs but all sick people must seek conventional medical attention.
“Home remedies are called complementary medicine and they are not in the mainstream although people use them from time to time.
“We know that people have been using natural remedies for a long time but their use should never encourage anyone to stay at home when they have Covid-19 symptoms,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“Those who are unwell should not rely on home remedies but must get tested.
“Those who are positive should seek medical help and not stay at home thinking home remedies will help.
“Home remedies are for people who are healthy and inappropriate use may cause more harm than good.”
On steaming, Prof Ngwenya said members of the public should be careful not to burn themselves in the process.
“Guava trees, gumtree leaves and so forth can be used as long as it does not compromise our health because Covid-19 is real and it kills.
“Vitamin C and Zinc tablets are fine as they boost the immune system but all these should not encourage people to be reckless and stay at home when they should seek medical attention,” said Prof Ngwenya.
In a statement last week, Vice President Constatino Chiwenga who is the Minister of Health and Child Care said the Ministry was working with traditional leaders to conduct research on the area.
“Someone asked me whether traditional medicines such as mufandichimuka, moringa, zumbani and other herbs can be used to treat Covid-19 or as substitute drugs for Covid-19.
“Some traditional doctors are also saying their patients recovered after administering herbs.
“My comment would be that you might be aware that some modern medicines are actually derived from traditional herbs.
“Yes, it is possible that some traditional medicines can be used to treat Covid-19. There is however need for scientific research to be done to ascertain their efficacy.
“The Ministry of Health and Child Care actually operationalised the Traditional Medicines Department, which is preoccupied with research in this area,” he said. — @thamamoe