Quackery and superstitions in covid times

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With over 2-crore confirmed cases and 7.34-lakh deaths till the time of writing this column, Covid-19 has now spread to almost all 213 countries, and territories of the world. The United States remains the worst-hit nation with over 50 lakhs confirmed cases and 1.6 lakh deaths followed by Brazil. India is the world’s third worst-hit country with over 22 lakh confirmed cases and 44,000 deaths till date. Indeed, we are facing the biggest global crisis of our generation that has touched every sector and changed the usual rhythm of our life. The bleak scenario has caused a real psychological fallout. While this pandemic is testing humans for their immunity, mental strength and the power of imagination, there is plethora of misinformation, conspiracy theories, prophecies, rumor mongering on media, that spread faster than the pandemic itself. These theories work in multiple ways, from heightening the fear of death to the inspiring spiritual healing of human souls. In an increasingly distracted atmosphere in this hyper-connected world, the fight against the virus is largely marred by age-old prevailing superstitions, spiritual logic and an unscientific temperament that is complicating the already complex task. The doctors are fighting the battle on the medical front, while the rest of us have to continue our fight against the ignorance.

What can you do when someone whom you hold in high esteem comes to meet you, and he forcibly shakes hands, and hugs you? You try your best, tactfully saying him in a loud voice “handshakes, hugs, kisses etc are not allowed now, please keep away, maintain social distancing norms” – all with a smile. But in return he says “hell with the virus, it is all fake, trust in God”. They even call those adhering to Covid precautions as superstitious and sometimes one feels perhaps they are right. At one time, we saw religious scholars saying that there is no need to follow social distancing as it was a conspiracy to keep the community away from other fellows and latter the gatherings have proven to be hotbeds of outbreaks. We cannot take pandemic for granted. Right from the day the outbreak started, the faith healers, astrologers, quacks and even the politicians are having a field day, suggesting weird cures for coronavirus. Many videos and messages full of prophecies of religious people keep circulating on social media in which they prescribe a wide range of protective measures against Covid-19.  Some pundits are recommending cow urine, bleach and cocaine as a treatment for the virus.

In some parts of India like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, people have started worshipping ‘Corona Devi’ to get rid of Covid-19. Many videos claiming pandemic as the outcome of a curse by a transgender women, and in many others the pandemic is nature’s revenge on mankind for eating non-veg food. Videos in which a person recommends the soup of the inner layers of a pigeon’s stomach, while in another eating the dust in a shrine is prescribed for those infected. A politician in India claimed Prince Charles had recovered from coronavirus with the help of Ayurvedic cures but the Prince rejected the claims saying that he followed the standard health guidelines. We have witnessed these things at the global level as well. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have come up with a device which can detect coronavirus at a distance of one hundred yards “using a field magnet”. In Cambodia, carefully dressed, scarecrows at household gates are the traditional means to ward-off Covid-19 illness from the home. Brazil preacher and congressman promoted an anti-Covid “day of abstinence”, claiming that fasting would produce a miracle and halt the virus spread to heal his country.

This is not the end. Heads of many countries came out with anti-lockdown campaigns, touting unscientific methods, blaming scientists for selling false hopes. Tanzanian President who holds a PhD in Chemistry cast doubt on laboratory equipments, ordered a herbal cure for the virus, stated that  outbreak is satanic and asked people to keep going to church because virus cannot survive in the body of Christ, it will burn. The President of Venezuela proposed that lemongrass and elderberry tea could ward off the virus. Brazilian president compared the virus to a mild flu, incited his supporters to participate in political rallies and promoted unproven drugs on social media as miracle cures for the disease. The Governor of Nairobi (Kenya) distributed bottles of cognac to the poor because he claims WHO’s advice says alcohol kills the virus but was slammed by the medical experts that alcohol is in fact, detrimental to the immune system.  And of course, Donald Trump once said that scientists should explore inserting disinfectant into the bodies of Covid patients, which sparked-off a furious criticism from the international medical community who in a statement warned that people might not poison themselves by ingesting harmful chemicals. Trump who once used the phrase ‘Chinese Virus’ didn’t wear a face mask, even mocked at his rival for it, was recently seen wearing the same and he indirectly called the act as ‘patriotic’.

There are countless coronavirus-related unscientific cures, dubious prophylactic schemes available in Google search. Most of them are unproven and has the propensity to exacerbate the spread of coronavirus. While global health organizations continuously making statements that there is no specific medicine to treat Covid-19, many look towards quakes who assure them the treatment at lower rates, cashing in on the situation by selling fake medicines. At a time when we are struggling to find ways of coping the situation, it is important to check the source and avoid sharing information that does not have a dependable reference. We are confronted with life and death choices, it is not just about our own well-being but about the whole community. In these unprecedented times we need to find the light from within ourselves. The quality of imagination or dreaming depends on the self-belief of individuals and the consciousness of societies. Death is certain, one cannot run away from it but one cannot live all along with this concept. Much depends on exercising prudence over the displays of beliefs.

We need not endorsements from influential people to take false confidence from unscientific cures but we need to debunk all the superstitions, media rumors and challenge unscientific temperament. When the things are beyond our control, the best we can do is to go through the scientific findings and follow guidelines and SOPs that come from the WHO and the local governments. If we all wear face masks, maintain social distancing norms, avoid crowds and wash our hands, then we can stay safe. Obviously, the lockdowns won’t be imposed and we can undertake our business as well. Let us be positive, change our thinking and behavior and be careful about these important issues for the well-being of the whole humanity.