With hospitals turning away patients, gazetted treatment isolation centers filling up fast and daily infections skyrocketing, several Ugandans have now resorted to stocking off-the-counter drugs to treat or prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
But medical experts have now warned that stocking drugs holds an even bigger danger to the public than COVID-19 itself. Dr. Richard Idro, the president of the Uganda Medical Association says as a result of the infection scare and for capitalistic intentions, many pharmacies around the city have even formulated lists of medicine combinations (combos) that one can take from home once tested positive.
Some of such drugs that have been popularized for the treatment of viral respiratory disease include zinc, azithromycin, Vitamin C, dexamethasone, but medics say not everyone that tests positive needs treatment.
"We're seeing a lot of things circulating on social media prescribing of what you should buy and take. Do not buy dexamethasone and take it at home, do not buy prednisolone and take it at home. These things will lower your immunity, they can only be prescribed by a doctor for a good reason. They induce, they might worsen your diabetes...please don't do it. People are buying antibiotics over the counter, it is creating drug resistance in our environment," says Dr Idro.
For the asymptomatic patients who comprise over 80 per cent of people testing positive, doctors say they need to feed well with plenty of fruits and vegetable, hydrate often with recommendations of up to three liters of fluids each day, get at least 30 minutes of sun exposure every day and exercise and the disease will clear on its own even without having any medicine.
For vitamin C for instance, which people continue taking in error to prevent infection, the ministry of Health earlier this year discontinued its use even among admitted COVID-19 patients after their analysis found it to have disastrous effects on patients.
Dr Bruce Kirenga, a lung expert who works in the COVID-19 treatment ward at Mulago National Referral hospital said the drug was very toxic and yet it wasn’t effective in treating the disease. Many people who had been using the drug showed up in hospital at the brink of developing kidney failure because of its continued use.
In addition to the drugs, Dr Robert Lubega, another doctor at Mulago reveals that out of desperation individuals are opting to purchase oxygen cylinders to keep them at home, and yet wiring one onto oxygen requires thorough analysis which should be done in a hospital setting.
However, amidst this danger, pharmacies around Kampala continue making a killing out of the combos. When URN visited some of the pharmacies in Wandegeya, smaller packs containing a mixture of these drugs go for between Shs 50,000 and Shs 100,000 and the bigger packs depending on what is contained therein can go for as much as Shs 200,000.
Dr Idro says that instead of the public spending on non-prescribed dangerous drugs, they should instead invest in small gadgets for measuring temperature and oxygen levels in blood.
"There are people who say they are preventing Covid, they have been taking Vitamin C for months, it is not a good thing to do. A lot of our fruits have an adequate amount of these things. If you need medication, the health worker will prescribe...There is a lot of dangerous information circulating on social media, it is very important while you're being monitored for mild disease at home that you know and have a way of getting to hospital so that you're transferred. Have available at home somebody who can support you, don't be at home alone even if you have mild symptoms. Ask somebody to stay with you," said Idro.
Adding: "Monitor your temperature at least 3 times a day...because should the temperature go beyond 37.5 you need to go to hospital, you can't stay at home. It will no longer be mild disease. If you experience any difficulty in breathing rush to hospital this is now an emergency matter."
Constant monitoring he says, will give one pointers on when to involve a health worker or run to the nearest hospital. Currently, according to latest ministry of Health figures released last evening, 784 people are currently admitted in hospitals around the country with COVID-19. The majority of the positive cases are either asymptomatic or mild and are self- treating from home.