The uncertainty and rush to prevent and manage coronavirus has pushed many Ugandans into using different unorthodox methods to stem the virus.
The steaming tops the list, with many using local herbs. Some have taken on the use of marijuana.
Whereas experts say there is no scientific proof to back the practice, some survivors vouch for steaming in easing the symptoms.
Mr Javiira Ssebwami, a 27-year-old journalist, has suffered from Covid-19 twice, and on both occasions used steam inhalation.
Mr Ssebwami said he would use the lemon, ginger and garlic concoction more than three times a day, depending on how he felt.
“I used home-based treatment, in addition to the medication prescribed by the doctor. I believe the inhalation helped me a lot. I would also use garlic, ginger and lemon. I would cook it and steam, sometimes drink it. Every time I did, I felt better. There are times I felt like I was suffocating, but when I steamed, and sneezed, I was able to breathe better,” Mr Ssebwami said.
He said the remedy is easily accessible to many Ugandans.
Although covering one’s head with a thick cloth over a steaming hot liquid has been used over time in dealing with cough and upper respiratory system infections, the Ministry of Health has discouraged the practice, and did not include it in the home therapy package.
Experts say it does very little to ease congestion in the upper pathway but not the lungs, and cannot kill the virus.
Dr Misaki Wayengera, a virologist and the head of the Ministerial Scientific Advisory Committee on Covid-19, had earlier told this newspaper the main benefit of steam inhalation in managing the virus is in clearing congestion in the airway, a common symptom, but added that with no scientific backing, they don’t recommend the practice.
Dr Potiano Kaleebu, the director of Uganda Virus Reseaerch Institute, said:
“Scientifically, it is very difficult to steam out the virus. If it is outside, using very high temperature, that can kill a virus but you cannot use that steam in a person, you would kill all the cells. This normal steam has no effect on the virus.
Dr Jane Nakibuuka, a consultant physician at Mulago National Referral Hospital, warns that the dangers far outweigh the perceived benefits.
“Following the anatomy of the nostril, from the external, before you branch to the wind pipe, that is a pathway. When you steam, you inhale the vapourised water, it will reach all the areas along the pathway, it may injure all the other exposed areas in the nose, the mouth, the mucus membranes, the throat, depending on how close one is to the source of the steam,” Dr Nakibuuka said.
“That is why you hear of inhalation burns. Breathing in something hot may injure the entire pathway from the nostril downward, which may be adverse instead of helpful. If you steam and injure the soft parts membranes, all the more reason for the virus to enter faster because you will have broken the barrier. It does not even get to the lungs. Even those who do not have Covid will steam thinking that the heat will remain and when the virus enters, it will die, which is not true,” she added.