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FACT-CHECK: Claims by US-based doctor on the cure for COVID-19 are MISLEADING

A  video of Dr Stella Immanuel, a United States based medical doctor came up on social media with claims to have discovered the cure to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The video has since gone viral. In the video, Dr Immanuel who was speaking was surrounded by people wearing medical coats.

She said she has treated over  350 COVID-19 patients including those with diabetes, high blood pressure (HBP), asthma and the elderly with a combination of Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Azithromycin.

“The oldest among the patients is 92 and the result has been the same,” Immanuel said.

“I put them on Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax and they are all well.”

She added she has recorded no casualty, and that she as well as other medical staff working with her were administered with the same drug as a preventive measure against contracting the virus.

She said: “There is no way I can treat 350 patients, still counting and no one is dead and even doing better. This virus has a cure. It is called Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax.”

Before her relocation to the US, Immanuel identified Hydroxychloroquine as one of the drugs she had used to cure malaria infection in Nigeria.

The video generated reactions on social media and was a point for discussion across several media platform in Nigeria and across Africa.

 

THE CLAIMS

Claim 1

That Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax combination is the cure for COVID-19.

Claim 2

That you don’t need a face mask to protect yourself from COVID-19 because there is prevention and there is a cure.

 

THE FINDINGS

CLAIM 1

In March, the US President Donald Trump approved the use of Hydroxychloroquine Zithromax also known as azithromycin as a possible cure for COVID-19.

He advised those infected by the virus to consider the use of both drugs with inputs from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This followed an emergency use authorisation from the FDA, despite warnings from medical experts.

But on June 15, the FDA revoked the emergency use authorisation for the drug use.

It expressed concerns the drugs might be ineffective in treating patients due to its side effects.

“In light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other potentially serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorised use,” the FDA, an agency under the supervision of the US Department of Health and Human Services had stated.

The FDA, in April, warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 outside the health facilities due to possible kidney injuries, liver and heart problems among other likely complications.

On the use of Zinc, some health experts believe the material could play an important role in boosting the body immune system, particularly against COVID-19.

But, except in a clinical trial, Mohammed Razzaque, a medical expert warned against the use as supplements above the recommended diet.

Zithromax, the third drug mentioned by Dr Immanuel is also known as azithromycin. It is an antibiotic drug used to fight bacteria.

Reports from Drugsite Trust, a New Zealand based pharmaceutical firm that manages drugs.com says Zithromax could treat infections such as respiratory infections, skin infection ear infection and sexually transmitted diseases. Nevertheless, it excluded COVID-19.

But as of date, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to establish a cure for the coronavirus disease.

Though there are ongoing clinical studies reviewing possible treatments, the global health organisation has not pronounced acceptable vaccine or drugs for the virus.

On July 6,  WHO accepted recommendations from the Solidarity Trial International Steering Committee to stop further check on hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir due to the inefficiency.

“These interim trial results show that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared to standard of care. Solidarity trial investigators will interrupt the trials with immediate effect.”

The ICIR contacted Professor Bola Olayinka, Infection, Prevention Control expert at the WHO Office, Nigeria to further verify the claim. She said there is currently no evidence to back up the claim on the use of Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax combination as a cure for COVID-19.

She noted that based on well-planned studies on thousands of people that are scientifically documented, Immanuel’s claim can’t be verified.

However, she advised the medical doctor could conduct a well-planned study with ethical approval or provide the data of what she has collected over time and present to the right authorities for proper validation.

“We do not have proof that it cures it (COVID-19),” Prof. Olayinka stated.

“For studies that have been done, it has not demonstrated any positive effect on the disease.”

Prof. Olufemi Babalola, the President of Guild of Medical Directors also faulted the claim.  He described Dr Immanuel’s claim as unscientific and unsubstantiated.

“Dr Stella Immanuel strongly attests to treating over 350 patients in her clinic in Houston, Texas, with the combination of Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax. However, people must understand that this is not scientific evidence and just her own personal, unsubstantiated claims.”

He explained further about conflicting evidence regarding the drug stressing that while some studies assumed it is effective, others concluded with the opposite view.

Moreover, the Nigerian Government also has debunked the use of hydroxychloroquine. It says it is only limited to clinical trials.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), an agency under Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health maintained the drug is yet to be validated.

 

CLAIM 2

Immanuel, the medical doctor who claimed to have found a cure and prevention for COVID-19 says there is no need for masks.

She said “I know you people want to talk about mask. Hello! You don’t need mask, there is a cure. I know they don’t want to open school. No! You don’t need people to be locked-down, there is prevention and there is a cure.”

The prevention and cure Dr Immanuel refers to here is a combination of Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax.  She claims she has administered  the drugs to herself and other medical staff who are exposed to COVID-19 patients as a form of prevention,  and it works.

However,  these combination have not yet been approved by the relevant bodies.

WHO recommends the use of face masks as a protective measure against the virus spread. Since the virus is a respiratory infection which could spread through droplets from infected persons, the global health organisation advised the general public to make use of facemasks, aside from maintaining proper hand hygiene.

Other experts who earlier spoke with The ICIR regarding a recent Fact-Check informed stressed the need to use facemasks always as against face shield. This is expected to reduce the virus spread.

 

THE VERDICT

There are potential drugs which have been on clinical trial but are yet to be approved by the WHO as safe for use by the general public. Studies have shown the effects of hydroxychloroquine on patients who complained of hearing loss, tinnitus and other complications. Therefore the claim that Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax combination is the cure for COVID-19 is MISLEADING.

And the claim that you don’t need mask because there is  prevention and cure is also MISLEADING.

This is because the claim is based on the premise that the cure and prevention -Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc and Zithromax combination – against COVID-19 has been found.  These combination have not yet been approved by the relevant bodies.

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