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Kenya: Alarm Over Abuse of Vitamin Pills to Fight Covid-19

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As Kenyans seek to build their immunity against Covid-19, experts have warned that a majority have been taking vitamin supplements without prescriptions, and in the process falling ill from their side-effects.

Ever since medical experts confirmed that Vitamins C, D and E are effective in combating the virus, the dietary supplements have been flying off the shelves across the country with little professional guidance being offered on their use.

Valary Atieno immediately started taking Vitamin E when her husband tested positive for Covid-19. She had not heard of the supplement.

However, when she went visiting and found that her husband was being given Vitamin E and C, she asked the doctor and was told the supplements were necessary for Covid-19 patients for quick recovery.

For those who have not been infected with the virus, the vitamins help them fight it off, but only when prescribed by a doctor. “They build and boost immunity and in case one gets the virus, they can shed it off fast,” Atieno was told by the doctor.

Waste of money

When she left the hospital, she went to a chemist and bought Vitamin E both for adults and children. Unfortunately, other supplements (Vitamin C and D) were unavailable as their demand is so high. “I have been using them for the past two months, but I buy without a prescription,” she said.

Generally, unsupervised vitamin pill-popping is more than just a waste of money.

The World Health Organization recommends a very strict amount and warns that higher doses can cause birth defects in early pregnancy among other problems. “It is proven that some supplements are very helpful while others are dangerous when taken in large amounts or the wrong combinations,” warned the WHO.

Dr Michael Mungoma, a Nairobi-based senior pharmacist and Dr Joyce Meme, a nutrition and dietetics expert, warned Kenyans against responding to the pandemic by panic-buying drugs and vitamins, without consulting professionals.

Dr Mungoma said as much as balanced nutrition helped maintain one’s immunity one needed to only take a recommended daily allowance to avoid side-effects.

“If one takes too much, there are side effects. For example, excess of vitamin E comes with diarrhoea, cramps and weakness, while too much of Vitamin C causes heartburn, headaches and sleep disturbances,” said the pharmacist.

Dr Meme advised people to rely on natural foods for nutrients and only supplement when a health professional recommends it.

“You find some people who eat oranges and tangerines still buying processed vitamins without knowing what quantities they need,” said the scholar. “They should know that excess vitamins can be toxic.”

Sellers on the spot

She blamed the sellers for cashing in on the craze without the moral responsibility of educating the buyers.

To build babies’ immunity, Dr Meme advised mothers to ensure they practised exclusive breastfeeding for children under the age of six months.

Poor communication has been blamed for the confusion in the use of multivitamins with Kenyans on social media now calling on Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to use the daily briefing on Covid-19 to educate them on a healthy lifestyle.

“Someone tell Kagwe that we don’t need numbers anymore. Tell him to advice on nutrition for those who are negative and also for those who are positive. Tell us which foods to take to help strengthen our bodies. That is my cry. We have heard about masks, sanitising and washing of hands,” posted Pastor Gilbert Mutai from Bomet on Facebook.

“There’s a new craze in Kenya about nutrient supplements, thanks to Covid-19. Before buying it, get a doctor friend to explain to you three simple things: is your body able to process all those nutrients in one swallow? The quality and why not just buy apples and oranges?” Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot posted on his Twitter handle.

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