As South Africans await the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, a number of "alternative" methods are being punted as either curing the disease or, at the very least, preventing it from taking hold.
On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised address, said South Africa is on track to secure 20 million doses of vaccine against Covid-19, but no timeline has yet been provided.
"Understandably we all want to know when the vaccines will be arriving. Everybody asks that question, and they want the vaccines to arrive yesterday. As we work to secure the supply of sufficient doses in the midst of huge global demand, we are doing and will continue to do everything that's possible to ensure that the process is both transparent, and it's handled most effectively and efficiently, and that information is made available to South Africans," Ramaphosa said.
Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that South Africa will receive one million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India in January. The institute is the manufacturer of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
While Mkhize has confirmed rumours that South Africa is in discussion with Russia and China for doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, local experts told News24 approval of these vaccines by SA regulators was unlikely.
As South Africans await the jab that will hopefully end the scourge of the novel coronavirus - by Monday, the country had recorded 1 246 643 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 33 579 deaths - alternative prevention measures are being punted.
Steaming with Vicks, sniffing baby shampoo, upping on vitamins, miracle oils and an animal parasiticide have - among others - been put forward as possible cures or, at the very least, measures that will augment recovery or enhance protection against contracting the virus.
Steaming with Vicks and eating pH-rich fruit
The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in Tshwane has launched what it calls a "steaming campaign", in which people are encouraged to "embrace an old African remedy which comes at no cost".
It advises people to steam two to three times a day "whether we tested positive for Covid-19 or not".
"Steam using eucalyptus oil, Vicks and hot stones. The virus becomes paralysed under extreme heat. Let's stop circulating fake news and conspiracy theories and save lives."
In a second message, the ANCYL in Tshwane punts "Covid-19-fighting pH foods", which include lemons, garlic, avocados, mangoes, tangerines, oranges and pineapples.
"Note that the pH of coronavirus varies from 5.5 to 8.5. Therefore, all we have to do to eliminate the virus is to consume more alkaline foods above the acidity level of the virus."
As a side note, the poster includes the caption: "Remembering Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang" alongside a picture of the late former health minister, and pictures of fruit, including garlic and lemons.
During her tenure, Tshabalala-Msimang infamously rejected antiretroviral treatments for HIV/Aids in favour of a garlic and lemon diet.
The claims about using an alkaline diet have been debunked by Reuters, which noted the list of "alkaline" foods are in fact acidic, not alkaline.
"While some of these tips might contribute to a healthy lifestyle and help the immune system, there is currently no known cure for Covid-19," Reuters stated in April last year.
But ANCYL Tshwane spokesperson Nicholas Gongolo Munyai told News24 that, while the organisation subscribed to steaming, its poster on eating alkaline foods was sent out "prematurely" and was withdrawn immediately.
"We encourage people to continue steaming, especially if they are Covid-19-positive, but also to use all the measures that government has set," Munyai said.
"Continue to wear masks, practise social distancing and sanitise. But, on top of that, we are saying, at least steam."
Munyai said the ANCYL didn't claim steaming or even pH-rich fruits to be a cure for Covid-19.
"We support all government's measures. We must follow all the regulations to the letter. What we are saying is that steaming can assist people, in addition to taking medication prescribed my medical professionals."
Sunday World reported that former president Jacob Zuma's nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, had ventured into a new business of selling a medicinal concoction he claims cures Covid-19.
According to the report, Zuma has surfaced as a new distributor of a concoction called Galela Oil.
The concoction is currently being used by some people in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Western Cape as a cure for Covid-19.
Khulubuse Zuma claimed that he used Galela Oil for the treatment for his Covid-19 symptoms, and said the oil worked wonders, reportedly saying that he "recovered from the virus overnight".
News24 could not establish whether Zuma was ever diagnosed with Covid-19.
The creator of Galela Oil is Thami Mtshali, who told Sunday World that he had invited the Department of Health to test the concoction as one of the possible cures for Covid-19, but said he never received a response.
Mtshali could not be reached by phone on Tuesday.
Galela Oil's website, however, does not claim to offer any cure for Covid-19, instead marketing the oil as an immune booster that can assist in the treatment of a plethora of ailments.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa has also admitted to taking the oil.
On Sunday, Holomisa tweeted: "Prevention is better than cure. Nxamalala since you introduced me 2 the Galela concoction in November last year I managed to get few bottles from Thami Mtshali. Every morning I take a drop together with vitamins C&D. So far I've managed to dodge the Covid-19 bullets. Thank u (sic)."
But Holomisa told News24 that he did not believe Galela Oil to be a cure for Covid-19; instead, he uses it to strengthen his own immune system.
It's like taking umhlonyane," Holomisa said.
Umhlonyane has been used for decades by traditional healers to treat various illnesses, including respiratory symptoms.
"I took it as some form of prevention, but I definitely cannot attest that it cures Covid-19. No. There is no cure or medicines that I know of, other than vaccines. We [the UDM] support that."
Holomisa also said he supported the restrictions imposed by the government relating to Covid-19 prevention.
"But all this dilly-dallying by the state to roll out vaccines has made people desperate. People are going to look for alternatives."
Sahpra spokesperson Yuveng Gounden told News24 that the body had not yet received any scientific data that substantiate the safety, quality and efficacy of the Galela Oil product.
"In view of the unprecedented demand for health products that purport to be used to prevent, diagnose or manage the novel coronavirus disease Covid-19, Sahpra has instituted an investigation into this product and will act accordingly."
The ACDP has recently come under fire for promoting theories on social media, which included that one drop of baby shampoo diluted into a warm saline nasal rinse will assist in breaking down the fatty exterior of the Covid-19 virus.
Other fake claims of treatments include suggesting that it is important to dilute the viral load by mouth rinsing and nose rinsing.
On its official Twitter account, the ACDP posted: "Taking one of the lesser components completely out of context. 1 drop of J&J No More Tears baby shampoo diluted into a warm saline nasal rinse will assist in breaking down the fatty exterior of the virus. Like using soap for your hands. Crazy but true nonetheless. Try it [sic]."
Virology expert Professor Francois Venter, director of Ezintsha at Wits University, hit back at the political party, saying that politicians need to be more responsible with the information they impart, and should get better scientific advice before doing so.
He added that it was not just the ACDP giving questionable advice on Covid-19, News24 reported.
As for nasal rinsing, Venter said the introduction of nasal disinfections to prevent Covid-19 infections was not only stupid, but also dangerous
An infectious diseases specialist, Professor Ian Sanne, said, once the infection is established, there is no evidence that attempting to dilute the virus infection will help.
He cautioned against this advice, as there is no evidence that it will reduce the viral load.
"Viral load on its own is not the cause of disease; we also see a worsening of Covid-19 due to the immune response to Covid-19. These measures are unlikely to change the cause of disease," Sanne said.
Venter told Health24. "We have no drugs at the moment that stop movement of the virus from the air into your airways and into your lungs. We have nothing to offer. At the moment, there's nothing else, home remedy or otherwise, which we can use in this situation."
On Monday, the ACDP hit back at News24's reports, saying it believed it was a "mistake to ask experts in one medical field to debunk what experts in another medical field already perform and recommend to their patients for many years".
It stood by its claims in a lengthy statement, citing 11 articles supporting its position.
The ACDP - among many others, including the National Freedom Party (NFP), as well as a collective of scientists and activists who call themselves the Ivermectin Interest Group - also advocated for the use of ivermectin, used mainly for the treatment and control of parasites in animals, arguing that it is safe to use to prevent and treat Covid-19.
At a virtual press conference on Wednesday, ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe said ivermectin made international headlines as a "miracle cure" for Covid-19.
But until more robust evidence is available, the routine use of ivermectin for either the prevention or treatment of Covid-19 is not justified. In addition, the use of unregulated products purporting to contain ivermectin is risky and unethical.
This, according to a memo from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19, sent to Mkhize on 7 January.
The memo is signed by MAC co-chairs, Professors Salim Abdool Karim and Marian Jacobs.
Ivermectin, a parasiticide, has been getting attention as a possible Covid-19 treatment, Health24 reported.
The drug works by paralysing and killing parasites in animals, notes the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).
In South Africa, ivermectin is registered for use in animals, allowing veterinarians and other trained personnel to prescribe it as an antiparasitic agent for a variety of animals.
However, it is not currently registered for human use, although Sahpra stated it had occasionally granted permits for its use as treatment for individuals with conditions such as scabies or head lice.
The MAC warned that no ivermectin-containing medicine for human use is registered in South Africa, and that there had been no applications for clinical trials involving ivermectin, nor for the registration of any ivermectin-containing medicine for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19.
"Using medicines not approved by Sahpra is illegal," it stated.
News24 put specific questions to Sahpra regarding these individual "remedies".
Sahpra said it had issued a public notice warning against the use of health products for Covid-19.
"The full notice can be accessed on the Sahpra website. Members of the public and healthcare professionals are urged not to buy medicines or medical devices (including IVDs) from unauthorised vendors and websites, including those on social media platforms. As yet there is no known cure or effective preventive therapy for... Covid-19.
"In the absence of approved known cure, Sahpra encourages the public to take precautionary measures as advised by government through the National Department of Health and this include, among others, social distancing, wearing of masks, hand washing and sanitising.
"There is currently no cure for Covid-19. Do not be swayed by false advertising. There is currently no vaccine against or specific treatment for Covid-19. Treatment is supportive and should be tailored to the patient's condition," Sahpra said.