Fact-check: This Facebook video on coronavirus infection is false; deceives viewers to purchase remedies on eBay


April 1, 2020

By Wole Elegbede

I always hesitate to click on videos sent through whatsapp instant messaging, no thanks to the crazy and seemingly unguarded charges by local networks in Nigeria. This time around, this particular video was sent by a sibling from London.

The live video was originally posted by Sunbo Wright on her Facebook page on March 24, 2020, and the link of the page was copied and sent to my whatsapp line on 26th March, 2020. I only made up my mind to watch and scrutinise the said video a couple of days later. It was an incredible piece of misinformation which unwittingly may promote the products of e-payment outlets such as eBay and others. This piece of misinformation could be dangerous to the health of infected people and disruptive to the dissemination of truthful and accurate information on the pandemic.

Wright had written on her page: "I do not have any rights on the music played....I don't normally do live videos and this isn't attention seeking. I did it because it might save a life just as it helped me...."

By April 1, 2020, eight days after the video was posted on Facebook, it has enjoyed 6.9K likes, 96K views, and 153 comments. My sibling who forwarded the link of the video to my whatsapp line apparently had watch it and captioned it this way: "This is real. But we thank God....Please watch. Thanks."

In these trying times of the coronavirus pandemic in the world,  and as a journalist, I'm interested in the accuracy of the contents of her video when considered against the background of the information that has been released on how to deal with the virus by medical experts and bodies recognised and authorised worldwide to do so.

Wright said she posted the video to save life. However, the contents of the video may complicate efforts to stem the spread of the disease and cause more deaths.

Wright said she displayed symptoms like headache, body ache, coughing, shivering, heaviness in the chest and loss of the sense of smell and taste. Her spiritual daughter, one Arinola, then contacted a medic in Canada who specialises in naturopathy to speak with her. After the assessment of the medic, who is also a pastor, on the phone, they then concluded she was having coronavirus.

To verify her claims, I took my time to transcribe the contents of the video.

This is her story: "I will share my testimony and am also here to give people tips. I started to feel funny on Sunday 15th March (2020).

"Why this video?. My spiritual daughter said to me, Mama, you're coming out of this. And I think you're going to come out of this to be a blessing to other people. And that struck a cord within me. I just think people out there need some awareness on how they can deal with this thing. I'm not fully  out of it yet. My chest is heavy. I'm still coughing. But I will share some of the remedies that I have used.

"And so I was just battling with this thing taking all sorts of painkillers. I even used the Nigerian Procold that we use for flu. You know, I was taken all sorts. And something within me said, Sunbo, you might have caught this virus. And I was in denial. I was just saying, how  could I have. I'm always very careful. But I take Uber all the time. I go to school. We go in the lift. You know, it could have been anywhere.

"And so, I was just battling with it. Then my spiritual daughter randomly sent a message to say Mama, Are you okay. And I said no, I'm not okay. I said I don't know what is wrong with me. I've lost my sense of smell and taste. And then I google 'lost of smell and taste'. And the first thing that came out were symptoms of coronavirus. And I didn't still panic. I just said to my spiritual daughter, I may have caught this virus. And she was like Oh, God forbid, bla bla bla, you are well in Jesus Name.

"So, the next thing I think she called her spiritual father in Canada who is also a medic. He's a specialist in naturopathy. She went the extra mile to get in touch with him to say, Oh, my spiritual mum is ill, and we think it's the virus. Please can you call her. And so, I saw a call with a US number. And I didn't recognise the picture on it and thought, I'm not picking this call. Then, the man sent me a message and said I'm Doctor so-and-so. Ariola asked me to call you. So, I called him back. He asked what my symptoms were. I told him. And lo and behold, he said it's the virus. That was when fear gripped me.

"In the early days, I wasn't scared or anything. I just kept saying even if it's AIDS, I'm coming through and all that. So, I spoke to this man. He did an assessment on the phone, and he said you definitely have the virus and the reason why you can't smell or taste is because it's probably travelling to.the lungs.

"So, I started to panic. And he said to me don't worry, don't panic. Then we prayed. He's also a pastor. And I was just crying..... These are the things Pastor Deji asked me to take. This is cinchona leaves, blended cinchona. Chinchona is quinine. You can get it on ebay. He said I should get that. He also said I needed the bitter kola, the Garcinia kola. This is also available on eBay".

The verdicts:
1. Wright didn't undergo test in self isolation as required under UK regulation. She gave the impression in the video that her condition was serious. However, she didn't follow the "Steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick" as spelt out on the website of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United Kingdom where she lives.

One of the steps is that a sick person should "call before you get medical care. Be sure to get care if you have trouble breathing, or have other emergency warning signs or if you think it is an emergency".

In self isolation as she appeared to be in the video; she still needs to get medical care in a serious or emergency situation. She is based in the United Kingdom, but she agrees to take medical advice on phone from a medic in Canada whom she has never consulted before the onset of the disease on her. Whereas in the UK, self isolated people whose symptoms seem to disappear must still be subjected to test by their health care provider as stated in CDC's website: "Updated guidance for a test-based strategy: The recommendation to collect both NP and OP swabs at each sampling has been changed so that only one swab is necessary, preferably NP, at each sampling". Viewers of her video have therefore been misinformed regarding the medical advice on testing for COVID-19 victims.

2. Recommending the use of cinchona and bitter kola by the Canadian medic to cure coronavirus is false. None of the organisations involved in the fight against the infection has recommended the use of these suggested 'curative' products. As clearly stated in the CDC website, "There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

3. No remedies are available on eBay at the time of going to the press with this piece. If eBay has the remedies for coronavirus, it would have been advertised, and the world that is desperately in need of a medical breakthrough would have celebrated.

As the world continues to look for solution to the pandemic, efforts must also be on top gear to head off this kind of misinformation and other forms of fake news that threaten to derail genuine moves to confront the plague. This is one task that journalists must be involved as part of their duty to protect the dissemination of information and organised society.

The video can be seen here - https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10219880303972454&id=1066596509

* Elegbede is a Nigerian journalist based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria

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