Imposter hospital Facebook pages promote unproven skin treatment in the Philippines

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Imposter Facebook pages impersonating a major Philippine hospital's dermatology department have shared adverts for a cream that they falsely claim can treat a range of skin conditions. A dermatologist at the hospital told AFP the conditions listed in the posts cannot be treated with a single product, and the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified the skin cream as a cosmetic product, not a drug with proven health benefits.

"Good news for those suffering from psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, fungus, ulcers", reads the introduction to a video posted by a Facebook page named "Dermatology at Philippine General Hospital" on March 2.

The four-minute video's Tagalog-language narration then says, "You need to try this ATODERMA cream to return to your healthy skin. Apply one to two times a day."

It goes on to claim that using the cream can resolve mild skin conditions within five to seven days and more severe skin problems within 15 days.

However, doctors say the listed conditions have a range of causes and approved treatments, none of which include ATODERMA.

The false Facebook post -- which carries the logo of the Department of Dermatology at the state-owned Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in the capital Manila -- links to a website with a purported product order form.

The site includes manipulated images of public figures apparently endorsing the skin cream, including the dermatology department's chair Dr Eileen Cubillan; Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos; and Philippine Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa.

Screenshot of false post taken on March 23, 2023

An explosion of misinformation about untested cosmetic products and quick-fix treatments for chronic illnesses has flooded social media platforms where Filipinos rank among the world's heaviest users. AFP has debunked the most viral false claims here, here and here.

Similar posts falsely touting ATODERMA as an approved treatment for certain skin conditions were shared here, here and here by other Facebook pages also named "Dermatology at Philippine General Hospital".

Dr Amanda Christine Esquivel, the chief resident of the PGH Department of Dermatology, told AFP that the Facebook pages were imposter accounts.

She shared a link to the hospital's official page, which was created in May 2017 and regularly shares updates.

AFP found that one of the imposter pages was originally created in October 2015 as "Trossachs Trail Running". The name was changed to its present version in September 2022.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the imposter page's history (left) and the official page for the PGH Department of Dermatology (right):

The PGH dermatology department said in a statement on its Facebook page on March 11 that it does "not sell nor endorse any product".

Dr Esquivel also warned patients with skin conditions against using ATODERMA, advising them to seek help from medical professionals.

"These conditions -- psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, fungal infections, and ulcers -- are some of the thousands of conditions that are best seen and treated by board-certified dermatologists," she told AFP on March 22.

"Treatments are diverse and varied...depending on the specific condition and their severity, and may range from topical to oral medications, including steroids, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial medications, among others.

"A catch-all claim that these conditions will resolve in just one to two weeks with the application of this cream should not be believed."

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies ATODERMA as a cosmetic product, not a drug.

According to the FDA's website, cosmetics are any substance used in the mouth and external part of the body for cleaning, perfuming, changing its appearance, correcting body odours, protecting or keeping it in good condition.

In contrast, a drug is intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease, it says.