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Prophet's Perfume & Gourd Oil: Iran Warns Against Quackery, Islamic Medicine To Treat Coronavirus

A couple walks in Enghelab Square in Tehran on March 26. Amid a deadly outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, alleged miracle cures and misinformation have spread online.

A Muslim cleric applying what he called the "Prophet's perfume" under the nose of coronavirus patients lying sick in a hospital in northern Iran has gone into hiding after a warrant for his arrest was issued.

Morteza Kohansal, a proponent of Islamic medicine, was seen in a video on social media using his finger to dab the potion on patients in a Gilan Province hospital.

Not wearing any protective gear, Kohansal appeared to suggest the unknown tonic will cure those suffering from the dreaded COVID-19 disease.

The low-level cleric told one patient that he would feel better if he would sneeze. One of the patients in the video died a few days after the unplanned visit. Iranian media reported that Kohansal had entered the hospital without permission.

After the video received widespread attention, authorities later condemned Kohansal’s actions and said they were seeking his arrest.

Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur accused Kohansal of interfering in the treatment of patients and "disturbing public opinion." He said he hoped the judiciary would take action against Kohansal.

Iran is struggling to contain a deadly outbreak of the coronavirus that has officially killed 2,517 people and infected 35,408 as of March 28. Those numbers are believed by many Iranians and international health experts to be much lower than the actual numbers.

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With tens of thousands of people infected and the government enforcing restrictions within society, misleading medical advice on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 has appeared all over social media and is being promoted by self-proclaimed doctors.

Among them is cleric Abbas Tabrizian, who presents himself as “the father of Islamic medicine.”

Tabrizian is reported to have said on his Telegram channel that the oil from violet flowers is effective against the coronavirus, a claim dismissed by health experts, including Mehdi Yusefi, the head of the Traditional Medicine Department at the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences.

Media reports said Kohansal is a follower of Tabrizian, who is believed to be based in Iraq.

Meanwhile, other so-called doctors have promoted the use of bitter gourd oil -- another practice without medical approval -- to prevent infection from the coronavirus.

Others have gone online in an effort to sell other fake remedies that they claim can either prevent the coronavirus from entering the body or cure an infected person of the COVID-19 disease, for which there is no known cure.

On March 10, Iranian Food and Drug Organization official Mehrnaz Kheyrandish was quoted by as saying that a herbal syrup sold online as a cure for the coronavirus did not have an official production license and was therefore illegal.

Kheyrandish warned citizens not to trust too-good-to-be-true claims about untested and often illegal products that are being sold online as a cure for the coronavirus.

The surge in false information and bogus prescriptions for a cure prompted a warning from Health Minister Saeed Namaki, who earlier this week said some “illiterate charlatans and demagogues” are trying to deceive people under the guise of Islamic and traditional medicine.

Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki condemned “illiterate charlatans and demagogues.”
Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki condemned “illiterate charlatans and demagogues.”

Namaki said doctors and experts in Western and traditional medicine should work together to protect Iranians from the misleading remedies.

The head of Iran’s Union of Apothecaries, Alireza Rezai Ghahravi, also warned people not to believe those who claim they have made herbal cures for COVID-19.

"If China, the United States, and powerful European countries have been unable to produce an effective medicine for the treatment of the coronavirus, how can an apothecary discover a vaccine against [the virus]?" Rezai Ghahravi was quoted as saying by domestic media.

Yusefi, from the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, told the official news agency IRNA that while there is no traditional medicinal cure for the coronavirus, some natural products can ease breathing difficulties.

Vahid Majid, the chief of Iran’s Cyberpolice, warned that those spreading rumors and misinformation regarding the coronavirus will be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, the spread of false information has in some instances been destructive and even deadly.

In recent weeks, at least 200 Iranians have died -- the Associated Press reported more than 400 -- and many others have been hospitalized after drinking bootleg or modified industrial alcohol because of a bogus rumor that consuming it can make one immune to the coronavirus.

Iranian media also reported this week that a 5-year-old child had gone into a coma and lost his sight after being given tainted alcohol by his family in the belief it would protect him from the coronavirus.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.