Posted by : Posted on : 04-Apr-2020

Looking at betel nut chewing and malaria in the context of the COVID -19 threat.

While obeying the rules on staying at home this weekend, as seniors of my age are now advised we should to reduce the risks associated with catching the dreaded and much feared cornonavirus, I could have watched one of the many videos I seem to have bought and accrued over several years and usually only watched once.

Instead I thought I would share a few lines with you mentioning betel nuts and malaria – both subjects all in the Solomon Islands have good deal of knowledge and experience of, although in the case of malaria an illness which still poses a health threat to a good many.

Why should I have chosen betel nuts to write about?   Well, I’ll explain.

In today’s edition of the Solomon Star, which I glanced at on line, I saw an article which said the country’s inflation rate has risen +5.1 percent to 112.4 in January this year with a rising demand for betel  nut coupled with a general rise in prices of main goods and services.

What could have been the cause of the high demand for betel nut pushing up inflation? The reported change in the National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) was recorded as having occurred in January before the advent of coronavirus became evident globally and the concerns associated with the pandemic.

I know that betel nut chewing is an important cultural practice in the Solomon Islands, in Melanesia generally and in some regions in south and south-east. It has traditionally played an important role in social customs, religious practices and cultural rituals and in some individuals perhaps generates a feeling of relaxation and well-being.

I have no doubt that worrying over the threat now posed by the infectious, deadly and unseen virus we have come to know as COVID- 19 could well see betel nut sales increase.

Although not an expert in such matters, I do know that the habit of chewing betel nut in order to induce a feeling of well being and calmness carries some risk from malignancy in the mouth, the oral cavities and in the throat.

Some Taiwanese researchers have indicated that the risk of oral cancer incidence among individuals with concurrent habits of smoking, drinking, and betel nut chewing is 123 times higher than that among the general population.

My advice therefore is to be especially careful and to moderate the habit of chewing betel nut, if not altogether stopping the risky practice.

What about malaria then?

Well, knowing the treatment for malaria in the Solomon Islands  has often involved the taking of the old malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine, I was interested to read in the internationally circulated publication the ‘Pharmacist’ that the same drug may have the potential to combat the novel coronavirus.

At the urging of the White House, several manufacturers revived production and will donate millions of pills. And now, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use by hospitals.

However, there’s an issue: No one knows if hydroxychloroquine is truly effective against Covid-19 because we don’t have results from full-blown clinical trials.

“A paper published earlier this month in Nature found that hydroxychloroquine limited the ability of Covid-19 to enter cells in laboratory tests, but this is not the same thing as testing in people. Although the researchers maintained the drug has a “good potential” to combat the disease, they acknowledged the “possibility awaits confirmation by clinical trials.”

While confirmation of the value of hydroxychloroquine is awaited, let me end by saying until there is an effective treatment for coronavirus do not abandon the physical distancing rules that are needed to control the spread of coronavirus, or increase the habit of chewing betel nut and end up with cancer of the mouth or throat.

Do take care.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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