Self-medication
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2020 - 12:00am

For a few days now, a woman from Leyte who works in Metro Manila has been doing tuob at home.

That’s their local word for body steaming. An Ilonggo told me they call it suob, but the method is the same. Fill a small basin half full with boiling water. Dissolve two or three tablespoons of salt in the water. The Leyteña adds some efficascent oil; others add pounded ginger.

Sit on the floor (the bathroom is ideal for this) with the basin beside you, and drape yourself with a blanket or some other material that will cover your body and the basin completely to trap the steam. Inhale the vapors to clear the respiratory tract, but don’t put your face directly over the steaming water or you risk scalding.

It’s like a makeshift sauna; the trapped steam induces profuse sweating all over the body. You’re done once the steam has dissipated – about 10 to 15 minutes.

The Leyteña says her cough with phlegm has been subsiding steadily since she started the tuob. She has had no fever. Combined with regular intake of a local cough syrup prepared from oregano, she expects her cough to disappear soon.

Someone from our newsroom said she also did tuob last week when she had a cough and fever. The afflictions disappeared.

The Chinese have a similar traditional steaming remedy to relieve respiratory problems and ease fever, but only covering the head. My mother remembers using the remedy when she was younger.

So does tuob work?

Not against the coronavirus disease 2019, according to the Department of Health plus several organizations of health professionals. Because of the buzz generated, the DOH issued a statement last Thursday, reminding the public that tuob is no cure for COVID-19 – igniting a word war with some local officials of Cebu City. The DOH is also warning against the risk of scalding.

Those touting tuob point out that the remedy works for them in easing what could be symptoms of COVID, such as persistent dry cough and itchy throat. What’s there to lose in trying?

Dr. Ted Herbosa, executive vice president of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19, told “The Chiefs” last Friday on OneNews / TV 5 that the danger was that people might believe tuob is enough to get rid of COVID, and delay seeking medical help. So health professionals are issuing statements stressing the importance of getting tested and seeking treatment in medical facilities, because there is still no cure for COVID.

*      *      *

What some people are doing is trying combinations of possible treatments – officially approved Western medicine, Pinoy folk medicine, Indian Ayurvedic treatments and, yes, even Chinese medicine.

I once suffered for nearly six months from acute frozen shoulder that no Western medicine could cure. When the pain spread to the right side of my body, I finally went to the Metro Manila clinic of Tong Ren Tang, the Beijing-based pharmaceutical company specializing in Chinese traditional medicine, which boasts that it was founded in 1669.

A Chinese doctor who didn’t speak a word of English examined my face and felt my pulse as I told him through an interpreter about the pain I was suffering. He scribbled Chinese characters on two pieces of paper. One was handed to me and the other to the interpreter, who brought it to the pharmacy where ingredients with names indecipherable to me were prepared for my medication.

Twice a day I had to drink a glass of hot water where the ingredients, shaped into a ball coated in what looked like gold leaf, had been dissolved. The strong smell and taste would automatically transport you to Chinatown, it’s an acquired taste. But in five days my pain was gone… completely. It never came back.

*      *      *

People are willing to try anything when there is no cure or vaccine in the market, or for chronic afflictions requiring maintenance medicine. So Pinoys use tawa-tawa for dengue, lagundi for the common cold, oregano for coughs, ampalaya leaves and duhat for diabetes, and banaba leaves and corn silk for kidney ailments.

In the absence of a vaccine or cure for a killer disease, people are self-medicating, fighting respiratory afflictions and boosting immune systems with folk medicine.

Our scientists in fact might want to intensify research into our traditional medications for a wide range of illnesses.

The Ilonggo says he has something better than tuob, and he swears it has anti-coronavirus properties: hagonoy juice extracted from the arrowhead-shaped leaves.

Hagonoy (Chromolaena odorata, Devil weed or Christmas bush) grows wild all over the Philippines. Perhaps its use for viral infections, including SARS about seven years ago, is due to its traditional use for the viral affliction called kulebra or shingles, the adult manifestation of chickenpox.

A website on Philippine folk medicine says hagonoy is also used in other countries for treatment of wounds and boils. It says studies have suggested that hagonoy can fight microbes and bleeding, which is why it promotes wound healing. It is also supposed to have antioxidant properties and can help fight cancer, control diabetes and reduce cholesterol. The studies also reportedly suggest it can be insecticidal, anti-inflammatory, anti-anemia and platelet protective.

*      *      *

The Department of Science and Technology is supporting research on folk medicine for various afflictions. Last February, for example, the DOST approved P12.3 million for Phase 2 of a research project in Ilocos Norte on plants native to the region with anti-inflammatory properties.

Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña told The Chiefs recently that DOST funds for R&D are quite limited. For now, R&D funds are being utilized for virgin coconut oil, whose high lauric acid content shows promise against the COVID virus and other pathogens.

The DOST has approved 10 local herbal medications: akapulko for ringworm, eczema and insect bites; ampalaya or bitter gourd for diabetes, hemorrhoids and burns; garlic for numerous infections; guava, commonly used by Pinoys against diarrhea and amoebiasis and as antiseptic after circumcision; lagundi for cough, cold, fever and asthma, among others; niyog-niyogan against intestinal parasites; pansit-pansitan for arthritis and gout; sambong for kidney stones, rheumatism, cold, cough and hypertension; tsaang gubat or wild tea for skin allergies; and yerba buena or peppermint as an analgesic and for insect bites.

As for folk healing practices, while medical professionals have called for caution on tuob, it is now all over the internet and people are trying it out.

Health officials will just have to issue a stronger warning that there is still no cure for COVID-19, so if you start manifesting symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor.

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