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Cuba's Covid-19 Cure: Duck Heart and Liver

Alternative therapy distributed as “protective” measure against the virus.
By Mayli Estévez, Katia Monteagudo

The Cuban government is promoting a previously little-known homeopathic preparation as an effective way for its citizens to protect themselves against Covid-19, despite the remedy having no proven effect.

PrevengHo Vir has been widely advertised in the state media as a product that will improve the immune system and reduce the possibility of the virus causing death or serious complications. 

“It is an excellent homeopathic product. It is harmless and helps to boost the immune system to treat a specific disease,” Francisco Durán, national director of epidemiology at the ministry of public health, told reporters recently.

The government is distributing it in old people's homes, maternity wards and areas with high numbers of confirmed cases, and plans to provide it to the rest of the population as soon as possible. 

The main component of PrevengHo Vir is Anas Barbariaean extract of duck heart and liver which homeopaths deem effective in the treatment of influenza. 

The central principle of homeopathy is that for a product to be truly useful, all ingredients of a specific mixture have to be present in it, but in minimal quantities.  

Thus PrevengHO Vir contains Anas Barbariae in a proportion of 200CK, meaning that for every part of the original mother tincture, 99 parts of water are added and then diluted. This new dilution is mixed with another 99 parts of water, and the same operation is repeated 200 times.  

PrevengHo Vir also contains other tinctures made of plants and minerals with different medicinal properties, such as Baptisia Tinctoria, Arsenicum Album or Bryonia AlbaThese are all diluted at 200CK, that is, 200 times one per cent. It also contains Influenzinum, a tincture made from the seasonal flu, also diluted at 200CK.

It is part of a range of homeopathic products are marketed by French transnational Boiron, one of the world’s leading companies in this sector. 

“We do not recommend that our products be used for treatment or prevention of coronavirus symptoms. We urge you to follow the advice of government officials and health care providers during a health crisis such as this,” Boiron US announced on Twitter on February 27.

Despite this, Cuba is using the products precisely for that purpose. 

There have been no studies on the efficacy or potential risks of PrevengHo Vir.  Diadelis Ramírez Figueredo, a researcher at Cecmed - the body that regulates medicine in Cuba - told a recent press conference that “clinical trials are not necessary” for its use in healthy people.

“It is not a product for therapeutic use. In other words, its prescription is not for the treatment of Covid-19,” she said. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO), acknowledging that many people use homeopathy, has called on member states to regulate its use to ensure it is safe and harmless.

However, the WHO has never said that a homeopathic product is useful to cure any illness, and has expressly advised against the use of homeopathy to treat potentially fatal diseases such as malaria, Aids, tuberculosis or flu. 

Homeopathy was included on an official list of ten recognized types of traditional natural medicine in Cuba in 2009.  PrevengHo Vir is among a number of remedies registered in Cuba by the state laboratories of Labiofam and the Finlay Institute.

The use of homeopathy in Cuba goes back to the 1990s, to what was known as “medicina de campaña” or battlefield medicine during the so-called Special Period of economic restrictions.

According to Cecmed, two series of homeopathic products are registered in Cuba; one which purports to treat illnesses such as dengue fever and cholera, and another is intended for asthma, diabetes and bronchitis.

In 2009, during the H1N1a flu pandemic, the Cuban authorities also prescribed the use of a homeopathic product. Two years before, in 2007, another homeopathic remedy was prescribed to the entire population in three provinces to the east of the country, to prevent leptospirosis infection. 

In an article published in 2012 by the Cuban Magazine of General Medicine, doctor Mayra Noelia Riverón Garrote explained some of the advantages homeopathy had in Cuba. 

 “The comparative cost of homeopathy is relatively low, as is the level of technological investment required. It also has a growing economic and ecological importance, because it uses fewer natural resources than those needed to produce a high volume of finished pharmaceutical products,” Garrote wrote. 

“In Cuba, there is a frequent shortage of chemical synthesis drugs, because the country cannot afford to buy the raw elements needed, or they don´t arrive on time. There is no need to use large quantities of forest mass to produce homeopathic remedies. Once you have the mother tinctures, these make way to dilutions that can be mixed ten thousand times,” she concluded. 

Not all Cuban doctors agree with the use of homeopathy. In 2013, the Cuban Magazine of Public Health published a study carried out by four doctors on “the many wild and crazy proposals” made in the name of alternative medicine.

“In our opinion, this limitation needs to be corrected. If there were a proper and coherent theoretical framework to explain homeopathy, then we would not hear affirmations such as that ‘homeopathy can cure all physical ailments,’” the doctors wrote. 

In the study, they explicitly referred to a “homeopathic remedy branded as PrevengHo Vir, said to prevent any ailment”.

Indeed, although homeopathy is widely practiced around the world, it rarely receives the kind of official backing it does in Cuba. 

In an official document issued in 2011, the Health Ministry in Spain concluded that “the efficacy of homeopathy has not been proven, and the results of clinical trials carried out are contradictory”.

Edzard Ernst, of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, is considered one of the leading experts in alternative and complementary medicine.

He said that “there is no evidence that homeopathic treatments can effectively cure or prevent any viral infection. And indeed, there is no evidence that it can cure coronavirus infections”.   

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