Desperate Ugandans who cannot afford exorbitant fees for treatment of COVID-19 have turned to using cannabis and other local herbs to treat the deadly disease.

They also use different kinds of leaves and grasses to steam themselves, which some medical experts say is dangerous to their health.

Ugandans are adopting these desperate measures after hospitals started charging COVID-19 patients $1,000 per day, especially those in need of medical oxygen. With the country’s per capita income being only $912, very few Ugandans can afford such a huge amount of money for treatment.

David Sempeke, 45, a resident of Wakiso district, said: “When I went to one of the private hospitals and was diagnosed with COVID-19, they told me to pay 3.5 million (Ugandan) shillings ($1,000) in advance before being admitted. Since I could not raise such an amount, I returned home and started using cannabis and other herbs concoctions. A traditional healer told me to use cannabis which I did. I had also heard from former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye how to make concoctions. After 10 days, I got cured.”

Herbal prescription

Kizza Besigye, who stood for the presidency three times but always lost to the incumbent Yoweri Museveni, has on several occasions told people how to make anti-COVID-19 concoctions.

His so-called prescription for the disease is powdered ginger, red pepper, garlic, onions, and lemons; all boiled in water and taken twice a day.

Melda Atim, a 30-year-old resident of the Gulu district in northern Uganda, said her family takes juice made from cannabis leaves. “We also take steam from herbal grasses like bombo, kyayi suubi, mujaaja, lumbugu, and orange tree leaves,” she said, claiming none of her family members has been infected by COVID-19.

Is it dangerous?

Medical experts have warned Ugandans against using weeds and other untested herbal drugs, including cannabis, to treat COVID-19.

Research by the Health Ministry indicates that many people across the country have resorted to boiling various weeds, and inhaling and drinking the concoctions. Among those mostly used is cannabis.

Many videos and audios have been making rounds on social media with some people claiming that cannabis and other herbs can effectively cure COVID-19. And religiously many Ugandans have taken the message seriously.

According to Dr. Andrew Zaake, a private medical practitioner in Kampala, the intake of cannabis and other unknown weeds has increased cases of intoxication. “It is dangerous that some people are using weeds to treat COVID-19.”

Drug addiction

Dr. Diana Atwine, a permanent secretary in the Health Ministry, warned Ugandans against using cannabis and other unresearched herbs to treat COVID-19.

In a press interview, Atwine said: “We have not seen any research paper that says cannabis and other herbs treat COVID-19. For that reason, therefore, we cannot recommend cannabis for the treatment of COVID-19.”

She warned that if this trend persists, drug addiction will rise in the country.

Dr. Rose Byanyima, a senior medical officer in the Health Ministry, also advised Ugandans not to use cannabis and other weeds which have not yet been tested and approved by the national drug authority.

The cost factor

Though it is illegal to grow or use cannabis in Uganda, many families, especially in rural areas, have grown cannabis plants in their backyards. They have been using its leaves to treat many diseases which attack their domestic animals and chicken.

But despite such warnings and advice from officials, many Ugandans insist that they will continue using cannabis. One of them is 28-year-old Francis Senko, a resident of Kisenyi, a slum in Kampala. He said: “The government has failed to control hospitals from exorbitantly charging us for treatment of COVID-19. They should allow us to use cannabis since we have observed that it treats COVID-19.”

He claimed many people got cured by using cannabis and a concoction of garlic, ginger, salt, lemon, and honey.

A landlocked East African country, Uganda has so far recorded 91,355 COVID-19 cases with 2,483 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.​​​​​​​

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