ECONOMYNEXT – You may know it from the Baila, Bivva neda Wadakaha Sudiya (බිව්වා නේද වදකහ සුදිය) but it was a case of the mass belief that consuming a concoction called the Wadakaha Sudiya, during a total eclipse of the Sun would make you very beautiful that filled hospitals with very sick people in Ceylon on June 20, 1955.
And now with the Covid 19 pandemic striking fear into everybody, with a vaccine available only in the distance, with no sight of a cure, the danger of such concoctions, promoted widely by TV and social media can pose a grave societal risk.
Tens of thousands have gathered at a temple in the Hettimulla area in the Kegalle district today as 5,000 free samples of a potion “guaranteed to give lifetime immunity from Covid 19,” will be handed out.
Various quacks are peddling “cures” for Covid 19 on social media claiming either to be able to prevent Covid infections or actually cure the disease are rampant on social media. At last count, there were at least 30 such “cures” doing the rounds on Facebook.
All of them are emerging not from allopathic doctors or registered Ayurveda physicians but from others claiming inherited knowledge or inventions they have stumbled upon.
The current front-runner in the stakes appears to be emerging from the Kegalle area.
The concoction is promoted by Shaman and “Hela” Medicine Man Dhammika Bandara and has received wide media coverage.
Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister of State for Vocational Affairs Dr Seetha Arambepola, the Minister in charge of the Covid 19 pandemic Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle all have been photographed trying out the “medicine” before the media.
His cause has been publicized in Parliament and on the widely watched “Big Focus” interview program on Adaderana TV. His main backer seems to be Sisira Jayakody the State Minister for Indigenous Medicine.
During the interview, Bandara said that he stumbled upon the concoction after “studying the Covid disease.”
He describes himself as being from the “Hela” school of medicine which is not the official Indigenous Medicine or Ayurveda, the millennia-old science practised in South and South-East Asia.
The Hela School does not have formal training as far as it appears but has been responsible for promoting a return to traditional foods such as ancient grains as a way of helping people with diabetes.
In an amazing prediction, Bandara said he prepared his potion in February, long before Sri Lanka was threatened.
Bandara claimed in the Adaderana interview that taking a teaspoon of his concoction three times a day for three days will make a person “immune from Covid for the rest of their lives.”
He also claimed that people who had been infected with the virus could be cured by the mixture.
State Minister Jayakody says that Bandara’s product is “food-based and is not presented as a medicine.”
He also said that “clinical trials conducted at the Wathupitiwala Base hospital proved that Covid positive patients were cured after receiving this mixture.”
These trials involved 15 to 25 people both Covid positive and negative and a significant number were cured, Jayakody claimed.
He also added that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the usage of “traditional and time-tested methods of treating these diseases in combatting Covid.”
That is not entirely true.
Recently the WHO was presented with a case in Africa where the President of Madagascar made a bid to promote a drink based on Artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment, as a cure for Covid 19.
It was met with “widespread scorn” but the WHO convened a committee which endorsed a protocol for testing African herbal medicines as potential treatments for the coronavirus and other epidemics an article on the issue on the world body’s website said.
COVID-19 has raised the issue of using traditional medicines to battle contemporary diseases, and the endorsement clearly encouraged testing with criteria similar to those used for molecules developed by labs in Asia, Europe or the Americas, the WHO reported on its website.
WHO experts and colleagues from two other organisations “endorsed a protocol for phase III clinical trials of herbal medicine for COVID-19 as well as a charter and terms of reference for the establishment of a data and safety monitoring board for herbal medicine clinical trials,” a statement said.
Phase III clinical trials would involve long-term testing using thousands of volunteers, both infected with Covid and those who are free of the disease and will take months if not years. According to the WHO the testing would involve at least 3,000 people infected with the disease.
Dr Nihal Abeysinghe, a former Director of the Medical Research Institute and a former Asian Regional Consultant on infectious Diseases for the WHO says for such a medicine to be administered to Sri Lankans clinical trials that follow “a strict methodology laid down by the Department of Health Services” has to be followed.
Abeysinghe told EconomyNext that Sri Lanka has a reputed Ayurveda Research Institute at Nawinna and they could investigate the claims made by Bandara and their ilk.
“There can be no secret ingredients in a medicine we have to approve to be given to the general public,” Abeysinghe said as Bandara revealed his panacea contains Bee’s Honey, Nutmeg and “two other ingredients that I am not willing to reveal at the moment.”
The Ministry of Health has appointed an expert panel headed by Professor Senaka Pilapitiya, Dean Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Rajarata University to investigate Bandara’s potion and report.
In the meantime, Bandara, whose day job is the custodian of the Bhadrakali Temple in Hettimulla is inviting all comers to come to his temple in to get samples of his potion free of charge today.
The potion may be harmless, as State Minister Jayakody says as it is some sort of a food supplement, but the grave danger lies in the minds of the people who believe in its unproven and untested efficacy.
Once they have taken the required doses, many of the recipients would sincerely believe that they are immune to Covid 19.
Enveloped in a false sense of security they will not take the precautions such as wearing a mask, washing their hands and practising social distancing.
These people will then pose a real danger to the rest of society.
(Colombo, December 8, 2020)
By Arjuna Ranawana