An infectious disease expert debunks COVID-19 remedies circulating on African social media

Recipes for fake remedies meant to cure coronavirus have been circulating online. (Screengrab)
Recipes for fake remedies meant to cure coronavirus have been circulating online. (Screengrab)

Since the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media in Africa has been full of videos claiming that different concoctions of garlic, ginger and lemon can keep the virus at bay. We spoke to an infectious disease specialist who said that not only are these recipes ineffective against coronavirus, they could even be dangerous. We examined three of the most widely circulating recipes.

Videos offering up homemade tinctures meant to keep a person safe from the coronavirus have been circulating widely on social media in French-speaking Africa. Our readers brought several of these videos to our attention. In turn, we showed them to Khadidiatou Bâ Fall, a specialist in infectious diseases who used to head up the infectious diseases service at the main hospital in Dakar, Senegal. 

We transcribed and translated her comments below.

Are garlic, ginger and lemon an effective remedy for coronavirus? 

This video, which circulated on WhatsApp in Cameroon, Ivory Coast and other countries, shows a person with no known medical qualifications demonstrating his recipe for mixture meant to combat coronavirus. “To cure coronavirus, you need ginger, garlic and lemon,” he says in French.

He suggests crushing all the ingredients and then putting it into boiling water boiling. He claims that once the mixture has cooled and been strained, it will cure COVID-19. Really?

We asked Professor Fall about it:


There's absolutely no indication that this mixture could cure COVID-19.

However, it is definitely good for the human body. It contains a lot of vitamins, including C, B1, B2, B9, D and E, and antioxidants like zinc, magnesium and calcium. This mixture will hydrate your kidneys. Lots of studies of these ingredients have confirmed their positive effects on the human body. Some of them boost the immune system. 

There are a lot of unknowns about this new virus. Luckily, there is intense scientific research going on into different treatments. Some of them might end up being effective against the virus. One example is the small study into the use of hydroxychloroquine conducted at the university hospital institute in Marseille. Other experts are conducting studies into using plasma therapy, which involves treating COVID-19 patients with plasma rich in antibodies obtained from a patient who has recovered from the virus.

Are steam inhalations any good for treating COVID-19?

There have also been videos circulating online showing people breathing in steam in what they claim is an effective cure for coronavirus.

“Grandma’s coronavirus treatment” reads the caption on a video posted on April 1 that shows a person covered with sweat after breathing in steam from a hot mixture. The video has been shared more than 700 times.

One of our readers sent us a video featuring the Cameroonian singer Longuè Longuè breathing in steam from some kind of tea brewed in a pot with leaves.

“We are fighting corona,” he says.

When contacted, the artist denied that he was trying to demonstrate a recipe meant to combat coronavirus.

“I felt like I was coming down with malaria and my aunt sent these leaves to treat me. I didn’t have coronavirus. It’s true that I said, ‘We are fighting coronavirus’ in the video, but, these days, you can’t really say a single word without talking about corona.”

Professor Fall warns against using this technique to treat coronavirus. She says that it could even contribute to the spreading of the virus.


Coronavirus infects a person through their airways. It damages the lungs and can cause serious pneumonia. You should avoid anything that could negatively affect respiration. This kind of inhalation can cause a person to cough or sneeze, which, in turn, can spread the sickness.

Is coronavirus the same as the flu?

One video that circulated widely in WhatsApp groups in Benin and Ivory Coast shows a healer from Benin claiming that the coronavirus is just like the flu. He claims that his special recipe for a mixture made up of ginger, lemon, orange and honey can cure people of coronavirus.

Professor Fall was particularly concerned about this video.


Even if there are similarities, COVID-19 is different from the flu. It has a longer incubation period and it lasts longer-- nearly 20 days within an organism. Patients with COVID-19 are much more infectious. There is also a much higher mortality rate. With COVID-19, the mortality rate is around 3 to 4% while the flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%.

She has a message for people spreading these recipes.


We know that many traditional healers died from Ebola. They are also highly exposed to COVID-19. We recommend that they take special precautions and also immediately refer any suspected cases to traditional health care facilities which can provide the full care needed by COVID-19 patients.

Article by Hermann Boko.