Covid-19 fear fuels rush for traditional herbal medication

Covid-19 fear fuels rush for traditional herbal medication

'No scientific evidence' that herb is effective, cautions doctor at Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital

Tablets of the traditional herbal drug fa talai jone on sale at Abhaibhubejhr Hospital in Prachin Buri. People are rushing to buy it as a possible preventive measure against Covid-19. (Photo: Manit Sanubboon)
Tablets of the traditional herbal drug fa talai jone on sale at Abhaibhubejhr Hospital in Prachin Buri. People are rushing to buy it as a possible preventive measure against Covid-19. (Photo: Manit Sanubboon)

PRACHIN BURI: The rise in Covid-19 infections has people queuing to buy the traditional medicinal herb <i>fa talai jone</i>, or andrographis, in the hope it will protect them from contracting the virus, despite a lack of scientific proof.

They are flocking to the sales office of Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, a leading traditional Thai medicine centre in Prachin Buri under the Ministry of Public Health.

A large signboard outside the office, in Thai and English, lists “4 anti-viral properties of andrographis”: it prevents the virus entering cells, reduces virus cell division, boosts immunity, and ameliorates lung inflammation from viral infection..

Rungwithaya Tangkhaprasert, a motorcycle dealer, said she bought bottles of the tablets for distribution to employees at her shop.

Nuanla-or Chantramit, a hospital official responsible for advising people about herbal drugs, said more customers have been coming in to buy the medication over the last month. 

Those suffering from a sore throat and ague are advised to take three tablets of fa talai jone three times a day. They should see a doctor if they do not recover, Ms Nuanla-or said.

Dr Supaporn Pitiporn, chairwoman of the Thai traditional and herbal medicine strategic committee of the hospital, said in a telephone interview that the hospital would soon distribute andrographis seeds to people to grow the plant themselves.

However, another doctor at the hospital earlier threw cold water on coronavirus-linked claims made about the herb.

“There is no research which confirms that the plant can protect or relieve symptoms in humans from Wuhan virus,” Dr Pakakrong Kwankao, head of the Empirical Evidence Centre at Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, told AFP by on Feb 4, 2020. His comment was published on the news agency’s fact-checking website.

Dr Richard Brown, programme manager for Health Emergencies and Antimicrobial Resistance at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Thailand, also told AFP that there is no evidence that the herb is an effective remedy for coronavirus.

“We think this is not correct. Information from WHO does not mention the use of Herba Andrographidis for this purpose,” he said.

Meanwhile, in expectation that Covid-19 spread would soon reach the third stage, Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital has stepped up preventive measures, according to Dr Supaporn. It requiries people seeking medical services to undergo a temperature scan and wash their hands with alcohol before entering hospital buildings. All offices are cleaned with alcohol every two hours, she said.

All hospital staff are provided with face masks, she added.

The hospital has also cancelled all study trips and is providing a new service, delivering health food on order to clients in Prachin Buri. The hospital is looking into whether any of its staff could work from home, Dr Supaporn said.

Andrographis paniculata is a herb also used in Ayurvedic medicine and sometimes known as Indian echinacea.

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