GEO TV’s Prime Time Show Promoted Baseless COVID Remedies
On November 21, 2020, Mr. Saleem Safi invited three prominent personalities to his show Jirga: Federal Education Minister Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, Shazli Manzoor MD, Diplomat American Board of Pulmonary and Critical Care and Dr. Ghulam Sabir Homeopath R.H.M.P. PG-Hom London; D.Hom London. The purpose of the programme was to educate the public about COVID-19 situation and assess the evolving political response formulated against the pandemic in Pakistan.
Despite mounting research and burgeoning databases, much remains to be known about the pandemic which has been hugely politicized. Nonetheless, this viral disease is serious and to date has claimed the lives of over 1.4 million people throughout the world and at least 7,800 in Pakistan. With better clinical strategies, it appears that the mortality from the pandemic is probably on a decline. The prospects of a safe and effective vaccine on the horizon is a ray of hope. A drug by the name of Remdesivir, which directly attacks the virus, has been approved by the FDA. Other drugs which inhibit certain arms of immune system including steroids are being used in severe cases to reduce the effect of the viral syndrome.
While Mr. Shafqat Mahmood and Dr. Shazli Manzoor were quite circumspect and calculated in their comments, Dr. Ghulam Sabir was overtly confident, spurred on by Mr. Safi, who told the audience that he is indebted to both Drs. Manzoor and Sabir for their largesse when his mother was ill. Mr. Safi also disclosed that the homeopathic medications that Dr. Sabir was touting neither remedy COVID-19 nor reduce the chances of acquiring the infection
However, in sharp contrast to these disclosures, Dr. Sabir claimed that if individuals take Amonium cab, gestichia 200, bryonia 200 and cactus 200 in combination, they will reduce the intensity and duration of the disease. He explained, “If somebody gets infected with COVID-19 and their oxygen saturation drops—and (even) after taking allopathic medicines, they remain in the ICU for months—with the use of these homeopathic agents, they will be up in about 7-10 days. There are no side-effects and if one drinks a cup of coffee, these medicines will be excreted out. And even if the patient has recovered, they should take these medications for another 10-15 days for the best outcomes.” Dr. Sabir further added, “If somebody gets sick with this virus, they will have to get injections worth Rs.15,000-20,000 per day from allopathic doctors and the average salary in Pakistan is only 20,000 per month, so how is this person going to afford 10 to 15 days of treatment?…but these homeopathic medicines are extremely effective and even prevent the disease by enhancing the immune system.” Dr. Sabir further claimed, “I have learnt from experience and we have accumulated data on 10,000 patients and even 90-year-old patients with COVID-19 have yielded good clinical outcomes with these medicines.”
Dr. Sabir also tried to explain that the milder viral illness he witnessed in Pakistan during the summer has evolved into a more serious illness in early winter. In fact, he further claimed that the so-called new virus currently prevailing in Pakistan looks like the European virus he had encountered at the peak of the serious epidemic in Italy during summer where he also practices his medicine. Contrary to these self-serving beliefs, there is no scientific evidence supporting the notion that the coronavirus has mutated, resulting in varied clinical outcomes based on different types of COVID-19 viruses prevailing in different parts of the world. The predicted and witnessed rise of COVID-19 infection during the winter has been best attributed to the exposure to the indoor air and the looming holiday season in the west. In Pakistan, the rise of infection is likely related to the public not taking simple precautionary measures including maintaining distance, hand washing and avoiding crowds.
Dr. Sabir appeared confused when he tried to explain the interactions of influenza virus and COVID-19 during the winter. “After acquiring flu during the winter, patients will cough and sneeze, thereby activating the carrier state of COVID-19,” he said. Dr. Sabir added that the next two months of winter are going to be difficult and the use of innocuous homeopathic medicines that he was suggesting will help reduce the chances of acquiring COVID-19 infection. He further added that a variety of tests including D-dimer, partial thromboplastin test (PTT) and chest X-ray can be undertaken to further investigate and prognosticate the illness caused by the virus.
An Internet search revealed that Dr. Sabir is the owner of Natural Medical and Research Center in G-10, Islamabad, and his Center provides services for diverse medical conditions, besides offering ultrasound, laboratory and physical therapy facilities on site. There are numerous videos uploaded on the internet where Dr. Sabir has claimed treatment of mental illnesses, stroke and other common symptoms like fatigue.
We were unable to verify on the internet where Dr. Sabir published his data on 10,000 patients, or where did he document the evidence of the benefits associated with the purported homeopathic medicines that he has been advertising for COVID-19 infection. As the owner of his clinic with a variety of medical services available, Dr. Sabir must be conducting many tests whether indicated or not; without having sufficient experience or knowledge about the cost-effectiveness of such tests including D-dimer or/and PTT that he uses for prognostication of COVID-19 infection. It needs to be seen how often he performs these tests or/and prescribes these homeopathic medications to his patients as a way of diagnosing, preventing or treating COVID-19 infection and ultimately how much revenue is earned through such practices. An internet search revealed that the cost of homeopathic medicines that Dr. Sabir is promoting can be anywhere from 250-400 rupees per vial. Clearly, any prescriber with a large medical practice and who indiscriminately prescribes such tests or medicine to all the patients can profit significantly.
While we need to take all precautions to avoid getting infected with COVID-19, most patients (more than 95%) do well after the exposure to this virus and improve on their own without the need to take any medications. For symptom-relief, paracetamol and cough syrup can be used. The much-hyped antibiotics like Chloroquine and Azithromycin have not been found to have any scientific evidence to support their effectiveness for COVID-19 infection. Worse still, a patient with COVID-19 who is under the false presumption of protection due to these so-called immune enhancing homeopathic agents may not take the necessary precautionary measures which in fact are helpful in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
It is extremely unfortunate that a well-known anchor like Mr. Saleem Safi is promoting such unsubstantiated, non-scientific and frankly illogical claims on the national television. Not only the contents of this programme should be taken off from the public view, Mr. Saleem Safi should give an explanation. A proof should also be sought from Dr. Sabir about the veracity of his claims regarding these homeopathic medications. If a fair investigation reveals no evidence for these claims, proper legal and administrative procedures should be undertaken to further investigate the clinical practice of Dr. Sabir.
Dr. Abdul Nadir M.D. is an Assistant Professor at University of Arizona, U.S. He is the head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Maroof International Hospital, Islamabad.