On June 13, 2020 Bhutan’s National Newspaper Kuensel reported that the Department of Traditional Medicine Services (DTMS) as having identified three medicines as potential to treat COVID 19. While general perception of traditional medicine as an option and misinformation campaign has been noted as doing round among the population through various media messaging platforms. This news report justified the misinformation in circulation get credibility among the general population which supports traditional medicine as an option or an alternative for COVID cure.
While the fake news and fake posts on social media has been noted as highest during the months of March and April in 2020, pseudoscientific health claim which is the circulation of the idea of traditional medicine as the effective alternative to cure COVID was found to be highest according to Choden Tshering in her research published in 2022.
The pseudoscientific health claim was that the much prescribed traditional medicine pills known as Chu-nga rilbu a pill made of five herbal ingredients and Norbu duenthang, a herbal medicine made of seven ingredients are an effective alternative because it has been used to cure illness of similar symptoms of the COVID. The spread of this misinformation went so viral that a video clip suggesting the traditional medicines types as the most effective alternative to cure COVID was widely shared among the public on instant messaging apps like WeChat and Telegrams. The ministry of Health besides clarifying in the newspaper had to issues public notice on their website and publish fake news alert on their facebook page informing the general public that the traditional medicines promoted as effective alternative are not true that it should not be relied on without scientific proof. Similarly, other such misinformation among the public were drinking lemon and ginger, the idea of digging coal and rubbing one the forehead to cure from COVID creating lots of misinformation disrupting the public ability to form an informed perception of the virus and preventive measures. The false, and incorrect information was at peak as noted by Choden (2022) in the months of April and March at the early time of the pandemic when work is looking for a medical option to combat the spread. At the same time the COVID pandemic was also challenged by mis-information for the government and people to deal the situation.
Prime Actor:The Department of Traditional Medicine Service proposing some of the traditional medicine pills as potential option through Kuensel newspaper although clarified that it is not a scientifically studied medicine reenforced the idea of possibility among the public.
Secondary Actors: The traditional medicinal practitioners has been spreading the misinformation to put on their herbal medicines on trial through instant messaging apps and through words of mouth.
|Transparency: The prime actors were transparent about the idea of traditional medicine as an alternative|
Intent: Their act and behaviour suggest hopeful alternative to bring traditional medicine at the level of modern medicine without anti agenda.
Authenticity: The actor were using lawful means of communication besides informal social media channels.
Dependency: The actor were disseminating through main stream media aided by social media and instant messaging applications.
|While other invisible actors in hope of traditional medicine among public used words of mouth and messaging platforms and the Department of Traditional Medicine Service aptly used national newspaper to prose its hopeful idea of the alternative.|
Harm: Disabling public ability make informed decision during the pandemic crisis. Language(s): The languages were aligned in a formal proposal intended to promote traditional medicine as an alternative or possibility to fight the pandemic.
Truthfulness: The content shared were deceptive and unverified and unproven.
Synthetic: The content had been inaccurate and untrue.
Narrative(s): It was aligned with the misinformation narrative.
|Audience:General Public and the Scientific community since the traditional medicinal community was trying to gain the attention of the scientific community in some way or the other.|
Targeting: Modern medical options to present a comparative alternative.
Platform: Main stream Media, Instant messaging app.
|COVID 19 & Vaccine Confidence:It had a potential effect on public perception on the COVID 19 . This is because the information of it as being curable with traditional medicine made some people take it nothing different from the fever, cough and cold that were usually cured by traditional pills. While people know pills do not have side effects from having used for flu and fever cases in the past, for some the traditional pills were more confident than the newly introduced COVID vaccines.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
As COVID raged the world, general public by default sought ideas to keep themselves and their families safe. The scientific communities explored for remedy and equally traditional medicinal communities were also prompt in taking advantage of the situation to explore possibility of traditional medicine for remedy. Therefore, the both legal and informal practitioners have been promoting certain pseudoscientific alternatives.
While the informal traditional medical practitioners spread their prescriptions through messaging apps, the government agency the Department of Traditional Medicine proposed the option on national newspaper.
Behaviour: The content was disseminated with the hopeful intention to explore and try traditional remedies among the general public. Evidence suggests that the traditional medical practitioners had high hope that one of their existing pills which used to cure illness with similar symptoms could potentially cure COVID so that the traditional medicine can be the remedy before scientific community can find one.
Content: While silent spread of misinformation on some traditional medicines as the potential cure was viral among the public. The news coverage on June 13, 2022 where the Department of Traditional Medicine Service reenforced the hope of possibility among the community of traditional medicinal practitioners and users.
Degree: The hopeful misinformation to try traditional pills against covid was viral on messaging app such as WhatsApp, telegram and Wechat while the news story on national media reenforced the informal spread of the misinformation.
Effect: Dissemination of the content has led to several people keeping the pills for an alternative. However, it hasn’t impacted the rate of vaccination which followed after the scientific community found the remedial vaccination.
The Case has been identified as misinformation since the silent informal virality of the prescription of traditional pills against COVID was reenforced with a carefully worded formal news story on national newspaper. It potentially disabled public to form an informed decision in combating the pandemic while exploring options during the early periods of the pandemic.
While traditional medicine practitioners took advantage of the situation to put their pills into trail to explore possibility informally. The news coverage on national newspaper came at a time when the informal spread of misinformation on the possibility of traditional medicine as an effective cure against COVID was rampant among the public through words of mouth, and messaging apps. Kuensel the national newspaper has to also do a story later dismissing the reliability of the information in the public domain which promotes use of traditional medicine as cure against COVID explaining the reason.
While there are several other fakes news doing the round during the COVID pandemic. Pseudoscientific health claims as has happened in other countries seems to have taken the lead because it intended to explore possibilities as the virus was new and even the scientific community was beginning to study and develop a remedy.
And for the same reason, public at the consuming end of the information chain has taken part because they knew that there is no risk in trying therefore increasing the circulation of the misinformation merely in hope of possibility. The good part of the misinformation was that it did not have an anti-agenda against modern medicine and vaccination. Therefore, Bhutan was able to achieve a high percentage of vaccination within short period despite the disinformation circulation in public proposing traditional medicine to cure COVID.