By Mary Hearty

COVID-19 pandemic got the world unprepared so people had to do something about it. The global community came up with a way of preventing and self-treating themselves. They used what they know best and have worked for them before.

In Kenya and even neighbouring Tanzania, a culturally home-based herbal remedy known as “Dawa” became very popular for treating COVID-19 infection.

The World Health Organization says that Africa is one of the regions that use herbal remedies and seven out of 10 of the population have been known to use herbal remedies passed down from generation to generation.

“Some of the herbal medicines that we use currently are the things we learnt from our parents and grandparents. Kenyan community has not been left behind too in using these culturally based remedies in treating even COVID-19,” Dr Sabina Wachira, Principal Researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) said during their research presentation titled: Has commonly used cold herbal decoction turned to be COVID-19 home made herbal remedy? A review of its use at the 11th KEMRI Annual Scientific and Health (KASH) Conference.

According to Dr Wachira, Dawa is a Kiswahili word that means drug or medicine. It is a herbal decoction consisting of several food herbs that have been used for many years. In addition, they have been known not to cause any harm. Their main purpose is to self-treat colds. The decoction can contain but not limited to ginger, garlic, lemon, turmeric, among others.

The principal researcher said that the main focus of the study was on the content of the Dawa as it has become very popular in Kenya. In terms of survey, they used selection of the food herbs based on a combination of pieces that are commonly used in Kenya to self-treat colds.

On the other hand, the review was done by searching databases like PubMed, and Google Scholar for articles related to the use of garlic, ginger, turmeric and lemon, specifically focusing on COVID-19.

“The search focused on the use of ginger, garlic, turmeric and lemon in COVID-19 with 351 papers retrieved from Google scholar and 2 papers from PubMed. The papers were published from January, 2020 to April, 2021,” she explained.

Thereafter, their titles and abstracts were screened for eligibility. Finally, 103 records were included for the full-text monitoring, and 60 qualified articles, including manual search papers which remained for the final data extraction.

“We realized that some countries did research on the use of herbal medicine to self-treat COVID-19, including Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, and India,” the principal researcher narrated.

All these remedies are being used for home treatment during pandemic because of their properties. For instance, ginger helps in reducing muscle pain; aids digestion; decreases inflammation which can help reduce a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses.

Other properties that contributed to the use of ginger include, use for throat infections and to relieve congestion in sinusitis; reduces fever in colds and flu and suppresses a dry, irritating cough; effective against the flu virus due to its warm and bitter property; ginger juice is a home remedy for cough.

Whereas garlic may slow down hardening of the arteries; it has immune-boosting properties that seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulphur-containing compounds; used to treat asthma, common cold and fever; used to treat respiratory tract infections; lowers blood pressure.

On the other hand, lemon contains antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties; it is very effective at the initial stage when the viral load is not so high. It is used to treat infections and is rich in vitamin C and flavonoids that work in conjunction against infection; good for treating common cold and flu.

Additionally, lemon juice is used as a gargle or oral wash and also helps bring relief from sore throats, tonsillitis and can help alleviate gingivitis, as well as canker sore. Citric acid makes up about 5-6 percent of the juice and tissues of lemon and lime. At this percentage, with its low pH, it breaks down the cell membrane of bacteria, similar to the effects of heating.

For turmeric, it has powerful antioxidant properties; has an array of pharmacological effects in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, obesity and infections. It is also used to open blood vessels in order to improve blood circulation. Turmeric volatile oil is effective against disorders of the respiratory tract, removing sputum, relieving cough, and preventing asthma.

Therefore, the possible influencing factors for using Dawa in the treatment of COVID-19 are the active ingredients and antiviral activity. Leveraging on the efficacies of herbal homemade remedies alongside observing salient global safety measures could be effective for prevention and management of COVID-19.

Dawa is said to strengthen the immunity system and offer protection from the COVID-19 infection. Also the herbs are generally said to improve health thus reducing symptoms of infection. As a result, this increases the recovery rate of patients with COVID-19 and fatalities.

Dr Wachira said that a remarkable increase in use of ginger, garlic, turmeric and lemon in response to COVID-19 was noted. “This is because Dawa is believed to boost the immune system, thus strengthening the body’s immunity to fight disease. Besides, it reduces symptoms and severity of the virus.”

This could only be attributed to the fact that the food herbs that combine to make Dawa have a lot of health benefits individually and collectively.

Nevertheless, she advised that it is important to carry out a survey in Kenya to confirm the use of Dawa, and also carry out clinical trials to inform whether indeed the components of this Dawa prevent or improve recovery rate of COVID-19 patients.