Health ministry rejects online rumours of a herbal cure

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Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim that people in Lesotho are "immune" to COVID-19 because the country apparently created a remedy for the disease. The claim is false; a health ministry spokesman denied the southern African state had endorsed such a treatment while the head of the company that makes the tonic featured in the posts said it has not been tested to treat COVID-19.

One post published on May 15, 2020, has been shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook. "Finally a long waited secret of why Basotho (ethnic group native to southern Africa, editor's note) are immune to the CORONAVIRUS is out," it reads.

It describes a "mixture of 16 herbal antioxidants found in Lesotho", including garlic and ginger, that has been "used for centuries" to treat the flu. The post features a picture of a bottled drink labelled 'Leso Oxi'.

A screenshot taken on June 1, 2020 of the misleading Facebook post

Herbal cures for COVID-19 made headlines in April when Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina unveiled Covid-Organics, a plant-based drink that has flown off shelves and sparked interest from other African countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) promptly warned against untested herbal remedies for COVID-19 and pointed to the fact that there is currently no specific medicine to prevent or treat the disease.

Flu remedy

Contacted by AFP Fact Check, Lesotho's Ministry of Health spokesman, Tumisang Mokoai said that they had not heard of Leso Oxi, the remedy promoted in Facebook posts. "There is nothing like that that we’ve endorsed," he said in a WhatsApp message.

According to Leso Oxi's Facebook page, the concoction is "a mixture of 16 antioxidants that help one's lungs to perform at their best with regards to excellent gaseous exchange". The recipe is based on a traditional flu remedy and includes artemisia, ginger, garlic, and eucalyptus leaves. 

Contacted by AFP Fact Check, director of Leso Oxi, Rorisang Khumalo said the product was a flu remedy and "not a cure" for COVID-19. However, he said the company was open to having the drink tested to treat the disease.

"As for Basotho being immune to the virus, that I don’t know and it’s the first time I hear of that!" he said.

Shortly before the post was published, Lesotho recorded its first case of COVID-19 on May 13, 2020. The landlocked country surrounded by South Africa has recorded two cases of the disease, according to an AFP tally on June 3, 2020.

Not the same illness

Although there are similarities between COVID-19 and influenza, they are not the same illness.

According to the WHO, both cause respiratory disease and are transmitted by contact, droplets and contaminated surfaces. However, differences include the speed of transmission and severity of the illness, with a higher percentage of people with COVID-19 suffering from "severe" or "critical" infection than people with the flu. 

Facebook posts about a herbal COVID-19 cure in Lesotho were first debunked by Kenyan fact-checking organisation PesaCheck.