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The New Arab

Iraqis seek herbal remedies amid feared second coronavirus wave

Iraqi herb sellers offer botanical preparations to fight symptoms of the common cold [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 June, 2020

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Since the start of Iraq’s Covid-19 outbreak, locals have been flocking to alternative pharmacies in search of more natural remedies.
Iraq’s trade in natural remedies has seen a boom since the novel coronavirus struck the country, with many locals flocking to alternative pharmacies in search of more earth-friendly options.

For ‘Attaar’ [herb and spice trader] like Rahim Al-Zabidi, the welcomed boom is reminiscent of the country’s annual winter flu outbreaks.

"A lot of my customers believe that herbal remedies can cure [infections]. They prefer it as a means of recovery over more widely-used medicines", he tells the The New Arab’s Arabic-language service.

Al-Zabidi specialises in offering herbal preparations, or mixtures made of some 300 botanical products on offer at his store, including seeds, leaves, stalks, flowers and pastes.

For the novel coronavirus, he cautions that his blend of ginger, milk, garlic and honey only assists people in managing symptoms also associated with the common cold.

Amir Al-Ka'bi, another local who runs an attar outlet alongside his father, said the current spike in customers has never before been experienced at his decades-old shop.

"I started helping my dad in this shop back in 1981, when I was seven. My dad, who’s now 76, doesn’t know of a time he’s had more customers".

Herbs used to make natural household disinfectants – such as thyme, eucalyptus and juniper berries – are in high demand, according to Al-Ka'bi, who tells The New Arab that his patrons follow advice on DIY sanitation circulating on social media.    

Iraqis, like most people living in countries gripped by poverty and fragile health systems, have looked on with fear and trepidation at the experience of powerhouse economies in Western countries, some of whom have crumbled while attempting to fight the virus.

The sense of panic is heightened by the existence of questionable medicines in Iraqi pharmacies, a consequence of rampant corruption and poor governance in state institutions, including the ministry of health, according to Sabah Al-Janabi, a secondary school teacher, who spoke to The New Arab.  

"Some Attaaris claims that their herbal preparations maintain health, strengthen the immune system and protect against coronavirus. Others advise on taking specific botanics, but I’m not convinced on how effective they are,” Al-Janabi said.

Read also: The Iraq Report: Pro-Iran MPs demand Saudi 'reparations'

The novel coronavirus has infected 7,387 in Iraq, where 235 people have already died from the virus.

Several districts in Baghdad have been placed in full lockdown for two weeks after Iraqi authorities warned that the health systems could not handle a rise in coronavirus cases.

While herbal remedies cannot replace the treatment offered by modern medicine, access to the latter may prove harder for Iraqis in the days ahead.  

The relaxation in measures during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan has likely resulted in a surge of cases, prompting fears that a second wave might be coming, according to The National.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation welcomed the Iraqi government’s decision to extend the lockdown amid the spike in Covid-19 infections.

The nationwide curfew will now last until June 6, 2020, with only supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies allowed to remain open.
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