Workers carry a cardboard coffin of a Covid-19 victim for cremation at a cemetery in Colombo on August 31, 2021. ( AFP / ISHARA S. KODIKARA)

Sri Lankan posts misleadingly tout traditional medicine as coronavirus 'cure'

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Facebook posts circulating in Sri Lanka have shared an image of a newspaper article claiming thousands of Covid-19 patients "completely recovered" after being treated with traditional Ayurveda medicine. The posts are misleading: the article refers to people who were treated with traditional medicine for mild and moderate Covid-19 symptoms at the island's Ayurveda hospitals. Sri Lankan health authorities warned that herbal remedies had not been proven to "cure" Covid-19.

The screenshot of a Sinhala-language newspaper article was posted on Facebook on September 7.

It has been shared more than 500 times.

The article's headline reads: "None of the Covid-19 infected persons who received Ayurveda treatments have died, 2,843 completely recovered - Ayurveda Commissioner".

The Sinhala-language text superimposed on the image reads: "Let's quit commercialising lives. Let's overcome subjugation. At least now, let go of arrogance and allow the reality in. The decision is yours".

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on September 14, 2021

In May this year, the Sri Lankan government approved a move to allow Ayurveda hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients.

The island nation has been battling a spike in Delta variant infections after travel restrictions were eased for local new year celebrations in mid-April.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed during the surge, despite efforts to speed up the vaccination drive.

The same newspaper headline was shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook here and here.

However, the posts are misleading.

Hospital admissions

The screenshot in the posts was taken from this article published in Sri Lankan newspaper Aruna on August 12, 2021.

Sri Lanka's Ayurveda commissioner told the newspaper that 2,843 Covid-19 patients had been released from the island's Ayurveda hospitals.

But the figure does not include people suffering from severe Covid-19 -- who are not treated in these institutions.

"At present, only those with mild to moderate symptoms are being accepted for treatments at Ayurveda hospitals," Sri Lanka's Ayurveda Commissioner Dr. M D J Abeygunawardane told AFP.

"We do not accept patients with severe symptoms and if an in-house patient develops severe symptoms, we take immediate measures to transfer them to a general hospital".

Unproven remedies

Healers and private practitioners in Sri Lanka have touted a range of unproven concoctions as Covid-19 remedies, including a 'miracle syrup' that some falsely claimed offered lifetime protection against the virus.

Sri Lanka's Ayurveda Department told AFP in July that it had not granted approval for Ayurveda-based treatments to be promoted or commercially marketed as a cure for Covid-19.

In September, Sri Lanka's health bureau said no treatment had so far been scientifically proven to cure Covid-19 and urged people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from serious disease.

"No treatment regimen specified for Covid-19 has been proven successful," the health bureau told AFP in a statement.

"Those with mild symptoms recover on their own without any treatment. The only option proven to have the ability to prevent Covid-19 related deaths with a high success rate is vaccination. Therefore, we urge the public to obtain the vaccine if they haven't already".