Kenya: Shortage of Vital Covid-19 Gargling Solution Hits the Country

Health workers take samples for Covid-19 tests (file photo).

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief late last year when British researchers said that over-the-counter mouthwashes could kill coronavirus.

Scientists at Cardiff University gave hope to mankind when they said there were promising signs that mouthwashes may help destroy the deadly virus.

Their findings were embraced by many, especially those who had tested positive for Covid-19. People invaded supermarkets and bought these products in bulk.

Now, Kenya faces a shortage of betadine gargle and mouthwash after many Covid-19 patients opted for the product.

The two are used in the treatment of acute infections in the lining of the mouth and throat, such as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and ulcers.

A spot-check in 30 chemists in Kiambu, Nairobi, Ongata Rongai, Kakamega, Kajiado, Nakuru and Mombasa confirmed that the drug was out of stock.

"We have been making calls to our suppliers but they too are out of stock," said Peter Mbugua, a chemist in Kiambu County.

In Kakamega, Kefa Wekesa said: "Some of our clients who tested positive for Covid-19 have been using mouthwash for a while, so I am not surprised there's a shortage."

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) could neither deny nor confirm the status and availability of betadine in the market.

"In response to your inquiry on betadine shortage, please follow up with the market authorisation holder on the stock status of the product," the regulator told the Nation.

Betadine is manufactured by MundiPharma Pharmaceuticals Limited in Cyprus.

MY DAWA, a popular digital platform for quality, secure and affordable medicine, said the products are out of stock. "Betadine is on high demand; we will let you know after stock replenishment," said an official.

It is also out of stock at Kasha.co.ke, another digital platform.

Brian Ambani, a journalist, was instructed by his doctor to use mouthwash when he was diagnosed with Covid-19 a few weeks ago.

"I was told it reduces bacteria in the mouth that cause sore throat," he said.

Mercy Milanoi, a media personality who recently recovered from Covid-19, said mouthwash helped her navigate the predicament.

"I started using the mouthwash to treat sore throat every morning," she said.

Whenever she breathed in, she had a burning sensation and mouthwash was recommended to ease the pain.

"I had to wear a mask even in the house and take warm water regularly," said Milanoi.

Dr Timothy Gacani, an ear nose and throat (ENT) consultant in Nairobi, however, said there are no peer-reviewed studies about the effectiveness of betadine against SARS-CoV-2.

Mouthwash does not bring back a Covid patient's sense of taste and smell, he added.

"The virus replicates in the throat so the point of using it is to try and kill it as much as possible before it breaks away to the lungs; that's why people are using betadine. People want to work with whatever they can use to protect themselves," said Dr Gacani.

A recent study by the Institute for Antiviral Research at Utah State University demonstrated that Covid-19 can be completely inactivated with a 30-second exposure to a 100 ppm molecular iodine (I2) mouth-rinse.

Betadine is a standard of care in infection control, even though it contains very small amounts of I2.

Betadine (PVP-1) has been in commercial use since 1955 and is on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines.

Research continues to prove iodine to be effective against viruses.

In 1943 an experiment by Dunham and MacNeal demonstrated that vaccinia virus could be killed with a three per cent tincture of iodine.

Afterwards in 1955, renowned scientist Louis Gershenfeld found that tincture of iodine was the most the effective antiseptic found to quickly destroy the poliovirus.

He reported that he developed a mouthwash capable of killing the virus using concentrations of free iodine.

These landmark studies and others demonstrate iodine's efficacy as an antiviral.

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