LA PAZ – Medicinal plants widely used by ancestral doctors in Bolivia are being used in steam chambers to strengthen the immune system in the midst of the health emergency caused by COVID-19.
Plants such as eucalyptus, chamomile and huira huira, which are believed to have expectorant qualities and help the respiratory tract, are used in these chambers, said Felipe Quilla, Bolivia’s acting deputy minister of traditional medicine, in an interview with EFE.
These plants are used by ancestral doctors to prevent respiratory illnesses such as common flu through the use of infusions or boiling them in water in order to inhale the steam.
This local practice led to the development of these chambers in which people inhale the steam for five to 10 minutes.
“This helps the person breathe better and the properties of the plants can help strengthen the immune system,” Quilla said.
The acting vice minister clarified that the chambers are a preventive measure to avoid respiratory illnesses, but not a cure for the novel coronavirus.
The vice ministry began an investigation two years ago into the properties of various medicinal plants used in the country, Quilla said, adding that the three plants used in the chambers have expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties, while eucalyptus was a natural disinfectant.
Freddy Zenteno, a researcher at the National Herbarium of Bolivia, agreed with the properties of these plants, although he stressed that they help to relieve the respiratory tract, but do not cure.
“It’s simply a way to relieve the symptoms a little. We have to be clear that this is not going to cure the coronavirus pandemic,” he told EFE.
Zenteno said these plants have some “antimicrobial and antibacterial” properties, but a virus is different.
He also said that the use of these plants cannot be used to in place of recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as the use of soap, alcohol gel and face masks.
Zenteno also suggested that there should be a joint effort between the academy and the ancestral doctors in order to better understand the possible uses of these plants, as they should not be used indiscriminately.
The first chamber was installed in a neighborhood of the city of El Alto, adjacent to La Paz, where these practices of traditional medicine are very common.
It is estimated that at least 10 such chambers will be installed in La Paz and El Alto during the coronavirus quarantine period in strategic locations such as near hospitals and banks, so that people can make use of them.
Quilla hopes that this initiative can be replicated in other parts of the country, using ancestral knowledge of the plant properties of each region.
Bolivia has taken measures such as quarantine until April 30, which restricts people from leaving their homes except to buy basic products or to receive social assistance for a few hours a day. As a result, shops and banks have installed disinfection tunnels, but with chemical substances.
According to the latest report from the health ministry, Bolivia had 40 deaths and 672 confirmed cases of COVID-19.