#BBCtrending: The Ebola 'cure' that offers false hope

A message saying a plant can cure Ebola Image copyright Tomi Oladipo
Image caption Notes like this are being widely shared on messaging apps

A message declaring that a plant can "cure" Ebola is being widely shared via mobile phone in West Africa - but the claim is not true, and may be offering false hope to those living amidst the outbreak.

"Bitter-Kola has been internationally verified to cure Ebola", reads the note, which is being circulated on messaging apps and other social media. "Pls do not forget to share cheers!!!" it concludes. Bitter-Kola is another name for Garcinia kola - a plant that grows in parts of West Africa and has been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat colds and fevers. Stories suggesting that the plant holds the key to a cure have also been reported in some parts of the African media, raising hopes further still. So where did the idea come from, and how has it taken hold?

Back in 1999, some early stage laboratory tests did indeed show promising signs that a compound from the plant might halt the deadly virus. The tests were widely reported, including in this article on the BBC website. Much of the copy from that 15 year old report has been recently republished in current African news articles. Crucially, the findings were never taken forward into more advanced tests, either on animals or humans, and no drug was ever approved for use. Today, an array of treatments are being investigated, but none involve Garcinia kola.

The story has spread so widely that Nigeria's health minister - Onyebuchi Chukwu - has now made a statement refuting its claims. "As I speak to you now, there is no proof yet of any such fruit. I repeat, there is no proof yet of any fruit," he said, according to the Vanguard news website. The health ministries in Sierra Leone and Liberia have done the same.

Professor David Haymann of Public Health England confirmed to BBC trending that the plant should not be relied upon as a defence against the virus. "It would be wrong to place false hope in a medicine that has not at least been first studied and shown to be effective in animal models," he said.

Image copyright Creative commons
Image caption Garcinia kola has not been approved as a cure for Ebola

Reporting by Sam Judah

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