Misleading claims of cures for COVID-19 from multiple countries

Coronavirus Health International Partly False

As the epicentreof the COVID-19 outbreak moved from China to Europe in the past few weeks and the number of patients testing positive for the virus increased around the world. This prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the situation a pandemic, urging the public not to fall prey for false statements in a time of worldwide panic, and in turn to refrain from sharing unverified information. 

With 146 countries (almost 75% of all countries), including superpowers of the world affected by this deadly virus, number of social media posts claiming discovery of cure for COVID-19 have surfaced. While medical and research team around the world have been researching for possible cures with clinical trials, WHO has reiterated that a definitive vaccines or cure for the virus is not yet found. Amid all these developments, we came across a number of posts since beginning of March with claims that number of countries such as Italy, Cuba, Israel, USA etc. had developed a cure successfully for COVID-19

Sri Lankan Facebook Page “Badulla – බදුල්ල” claims that an Italian doctor has found a cure for COVID-19. The post, “ඉතාලියෙන් ලෝකයටම දෙන සුබ ආරංචියක්… නාපෝලි නගරයේ රෝහලක විශේෂඥ වෛද්‍යවරයෙකු විසින් ලෝකය පුරා සීග්‍රයෙන් පැතිරෙන කොරෝනා වෛරසයට එරෙහිව ප්‍රතිජීවක ඖෂධයක් සාර්ථකව අත්හදා බලා තිබෙනවා…” translated to English as “Good News for the World from Italy. A Specialist Doctor in a Naples hospital has successfully tested an antibiotic for Coronavirus that is rapidly spreading across the world” The post goes on to say “දැඩි සත්කාරයේ ප්‍රතිකාර ලබමින් සිටි රෝගීන් දෙදෙනෙකු යොදාගෙන සිදුකර ඇති මෙම පරීක්ෂණයේදී පැය විසිහතරක් ඇතුළත සාර්ථක ප්‍රතිඵල ලැබී ඇති බවයි වාර්තා වන්නේ. එම නිසා මිලානෝ සහ බෙර්ගමෝ රෝහල්වල මෙම ප්‍රතිජීවක ඖෂධය පරීක්ෂණයකට යොමු කර තිබෙනවා”  translated as “The cure which was tested on 2 patients showed improvement within 24 hours. As a result, the cure is now being given to patients in hospitals across Milan and Begamo” The post is shown below:

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This post had received mixed reactions from the users with some questioning the effectiveness of an antibiotic against a virus like COVID-19. Similar posts of possible cure from Cuba was shared widely as well. The post in Sinhala “මානුෂීය හැඟීමෙන් දේශ සීමා රහිතව ජාති ආගම් භේද අතහැර, සමස්ත ලෝකයම සුවපත් කිරීම අරමුණු ධනවාදී කුලල් කා ගන්නා මොහොතක නොබලාගේ සොයා ගැනීමට ස්තුතියි කියුබානුවනි “translated to English as “Thank you Cubans for discovering a cure in the spirit of healing the entire world, disregarding any religious and ethnic differences, at time when capitalist countries are fighting against each other”

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Few weeks earlier, we noticed similar claims of a possible cure from Israel which read as “ඊශ්‍රායලය කොරෝනා වෛරසයට එරෙහිව එන්නතක් සොයාගනී. වෛද්‍ය පර්යේෂණවල නිවහන වන ඊශ්‍රායලයේ වෛද්‍යවරු ප්‍රකාශ කළේ කොරෝනා වෛරසය සඳහා එන්නත ලබාදීමෙන් ඔවුන් විශිෂ්ට විසඳුමක් ලබා ඇති බවයි” translating to English as “ Israel finds vaccine against coronavirus. Doctors in Israel, the home of medical research, say that they have found a vaccination for coronavirus”

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Similar claims are circulating in Tamil as well which says a US-based Company Moderna is inventing a new drug for the COVID-19 and that the drug is being tested on humans and is expected to go for commercial sale next July.

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Fact Check 

The image of the doctor presented in the first post related to is of Dr. Paolo A. Ascierto, a medical professional and an esteemed Melanoma specialist from Solopaca Italy, who received his medical degree from the University of Naples. He had mentioned that a commonly used Arthritis drug (tocilizumab) had shown some improvement when administered to COVID-19 patients in Italy and have moved on to clinical trials which could have been misinterpreted as finding a cure for COVID-19 from Italy.

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Google search done on Dr. Paolo A. Ascierto revealed a story published on ANSA, an Italian News Agency, on effective use of tocilizumab drug against COVID-19 patients.

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Several other sites, including science, travel and healthcare websites have been carrying similar stories of this arthritis medication, helping to improve the symptomatic Pneumonia that many patients who tested positive for Coronavirus also tend to contract. China deployed a team of medical experts, who have had hands on experience on mitigating COVID-19 to manageable levels in China. Drugs such as tocilizumab are being tested as a joint venture along with Italian medical experts. The World Health Organization confirms that the situation in Italy is critical with 21,157 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,141 deaths as on 15th March 2020. 

In a similar manner, the Cuban claims were based on a drug called Interferon Alpha 2B, a drug that was apparently used by China to treat its coronavirus patients. “Interferon is a therapeutic product, it is not a vaccine,” said Eduardo Martínez, president of the state industrial group BioCubaFarma, denying social media publications that reported that there was a cure for this pandemic in the country. 

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Israeli claim was based on an announcement made by state-funded MIGAL Research Institute, which announced that it has developed an effective vaccine against avian coronavirus called Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), to be adapted soon and create a human vaccine against COVID-19. In a press release on 27th of February, MIGAL Research Institute stated that “Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development. Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next 8-10 weeks, and to achieve safety approval in 90 days. This will be an oral vaccine, making it particularly accessible to the general public. We are currently in intensive discussions with potential partners that can help accelerate the in-human trials phase and expedite the completion final product development and regulatory activities”

Latest reports about MIGAL Research Institute’s developments state that “Israel’s science ministry made headlines last week by touting the institute’s work and saying that its vaccine could be three months away, Dr. Asher Shalmon, the Health Ministry’s director of international relations, has warned against placing “false hopes” in it”

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In a similar vein the claims of cure from USA were based on the drug Moderna. As pressure for coronavirus vaccine mounts, scientists debate risks of accelerated testing bypassing the clinical trial process and directly testing these drugs on humans. Fortune stated that “Testing will begin with 45 young, healthy volunteers with different doses of shots co-developed by NIH and Moderna Inc. There’s no chance participants could get infected from the shots, because they don’t contain the virus itself. The goal is purely to check that the vaccines show no worrisome side effects, setting the stage for larger tests.”

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Actively supporting these clinical trials WHO has clarified that to date there has not been any definitive vaccine or antiviral drug developed to prevent or treat COVID-19. WHO confirms that antibiotics cannot have any effect on viruses like COVID-19 and while some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no conclusive evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. 

Q&A on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Conclusion

While some drugs have provided symptomatic improvement, there is no confirmation that any of the medication currently being tested across different parts of the world is a definitive cure for COVID-19. WHO officially confirms there has not been any definitive vaccine or antiviral drug developed to prevent or treat COVID-19 to date, hence all above claims are misleading.

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Title:Misleading claims of cures for COVID-19 from multiple countries

Fact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe 

Result: Partly False

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