A woman mixes Clorox with water to drink  in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 3, 2020. Some Haitians believe the mixture can prev
A woman mixes Clorox with water to drink in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 3, 2020. Some Haitians believe the mixture can prevent them from COVID-19 infection.

WASHINGTON/PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI - As the coronavirus continues to spread in Haiti, some people are embracing traditional remedies as a way to prevent or cure the deadly virus. VOA talked to Haitians at an open-air market about what they believe can prevent them from being infected or perhaps even heal them.

“They say there’s no cure for it, but we can eat limes and drink water with Clorox to stay alive,” a female street merchant told VOA.

“I hear people say you should eat limes and eat certain leaves to stay healthy,” a male street merchant said.

Haiti currently has 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 400 people quarantined while they await test results, the public health ministry announced Friday.

VOA Creole asked Pierre Hugues Saint-Jean, president of the national Association of Pharmacists, if there’s any validity to the traditional remedies being touted on the streets.

“There actually has been a debate about the virtues of certain plants. Some people say ginger, others say limes, some people are talking about aloe,” Saint-Jean said. “Just because it’s a plant doesn’t mean it has no scientific validity. But you have to study the plant, isolate the active substances contained in the plant and then conduct (scientific) studies.”

A flatbed truck travels on the streets of Port-au-Prince on April 3, 2020. The sign says “Coronavirus is lethal. Wash your hands, protect yourself."

Saint-Jean said this kind of in-depth study can determine what preventive attributes the plant may hold that perhaps later could be used to treat illnesses.

Traditional cures are part of the Haitian culture and are widely used. Native tropical plants such as moringa, palma christi, verbena and aloe are routinely used to treat health ailments such as colds and flu. In fact, the health ministry has a special branch devoted to traditional medicine.

“If we talk about lime as a cure, I can tell you that limes have a lot of positive attributes. Limes have an abundance of vitamin C, which helps to reinforce the immune system,” explained Cajuste Romel, vice president of the national pharmacists association.

Some people are taking drugs such as chloroquine, sold on the streets of Port-au-Prince, as a preventative measure. Chloroquine (phosphate) is an effective antimalarial drug, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Any pill I find being sold on the street (as a cure) I will buy it because I’ve got problems,” a customer at an open-air market told VOA.

Saint-Jean said he understands why people believe the drug can cure them.

“Laboratory tests on chloroquine had some positive results on malaria, and recent tests have shown that it does have a level of success against the coronavirus, that’s why researchers are studying,” he said.

This street merchant, shown in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 3, 2020, believes eating limes and drinking water infused with Clorox will keep her healthy.

As of now, there is no cure for the highly contagious COVID-19, although researchers have begun searching for one. Health experts say a vaccine will not be available in 2020.

Romel told VOA that taking chloroquine preventatively is not a good idea.

“Chloroquine cannot prevent you from being infected with the coronavirus,” he said.  As for adding Clorox (bleach) to water, the pharmacist advised caution.

“Clorox is one of the best disinfectants that exist on Earth. It’s not only efficient but also accessible,” he told VOA. “But it worries me (to hear people are drinking it in water) because it’s also toxic. That’s why you have to be very careful about how much you are adding to the water you’re drinking.”

Romel said he hopes the government will include the proper proportion of Clorox to water in its coronavirus public advisories.

“Haitians think if they can smell the Clorox, then it’s more effective,” Romel noted. “The truth is the stronger the smell, the more toxic it is.”  

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