BISHKEK: A vendor sells the indigenous Aconitum soongaricum root known locally as "Issyk-Kul root" at a bazaar. - AFP

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan is using a poisonous root as a treatment against the coronavirus despite health warnings as the country battles a new wave of infections. The health ministry unveiled the remedy at a news conference on Friday, claiming the impoverished country's leader used the herb to cure "thousands" of sick inmates when he served jail time last year.

Health Minister Alimkadyr Beishenaliyev took sips of the solution that contains extracts of aconite root as he talked up its healing properties. "There is no harm to health," he said, noting that the remedy had already been used to treat coronavirus patients. "You need to drink it hot, and in two or three days the positive PCR test result disappears and the person immediately becomes better."

Beishenaliyev however warned that "spasms and death" could befall anyone drinking the solution cold. "(Even) if you drink it hot and then have cold water or ice cream, you can die," he said, noting that kettles to boil the solution had been purchased for hospitals around the mountainous country. Aconite root is used in traditional medicine even though it is considered highly toxic.

The authorities have said that a third wave of Covid-19 cases is beginning in the Central Asian country of 6.5 million people, which suffered a difficult summer as the virus overwhelmed hospitals last year. President Sadyr Japarov took to Facebook late Thursday, releasing a video that appeared to show the remedy being bottled by men who were not wearing protective equipment.

The label on the bottles called the drink effective "against coronavirus and cancer of the stomach" but warned that drinking the solution without heating it up might result in death. The World Health Organization on Thursday criticized the decision to promote the remedy. "A drug that has not undergone clinical trials cannot be registered and recommended for widespread use by the population," the WHO said.

Beishenaliyev claimed Japarov had successfully treated "thousands of prisoners" using the solution prior to being released from jail by protesters and catapulted to power during a political crisis last year. But the head of state was "too modest" to try and patent the drug, Beishenaliyev said.

Nature's cure?

Japarov is not the first leader to claim a herbal cure for the coronavirus. In Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov hailed licorice root as a cure for the coronavirus, a disease he insists has yet to touch his isolated country of six million people. Madagascar's Andry Rajoelina has promoted a locally-brewed infusion, based on the anti-malarial plant artemisia, to fight the virus. Nazira Munaypasova, a 43-year-old trader who has sold aconite root at one of the main bazaars in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek for over ten years, told AFP the root was "powerful" and echoed the health minister's caution.

"You cannot drink or eat anything cold after it," said Munaypasova, who said that local hospitals were using it to treat coronavirus as early as last summer. Japarov first mentioned the treatment known locally as "Issyk-Kul root" in October as he took power less than two weeks after his release from jail, where he served a 10.5-year sentence for hostage-taking.

Issyk-Kul, where the plant grows readily, is a Kyrgyz region home to the country's favorite lakeside resort, as well as the village where 52-year-old Japarov was born. Aconite makes several appearances in Greek mythology. In one celebrated myth the goddess Athena used aconite to turn a talented weaver called Arachne into the world's first spider. - AFP