TGA warns on virus ‘cures’

Benjamin Franklin once said there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. Were he alive today, he would surely add two more – opportunistic scammers and fake ‘cures’.

Scammers were quick to jump on the coronavirus bandwagon, ‘advising’ anxious and vulnerable Australians how they could access their super – with the scammer’s help. Now, an ethics and medico-legal expert has labelled promoters of ‘cures’ as “cockroaches” and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued a warning.

In a statement it said to exercise extreme caution in relation to seemingly miraculous products, from unproven complementary medicines to $15,000 ‘subtle energy’ machines promoted by celebrity chef Pete Evans.

Mr Evans shared an Instagram video, since taken down, discussing the BioCharger NG – a “hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform”, which claims to “optimise and improve potential health, wellness and athletic performance”.

The TGA is investigating the product, while the creator of the device, Advanced Biotechnologies, released a statement distancing itself from Mr Evans’ claims.

The TGA has also warned consumers to beware of claims that certain air purifiers can fight the disease, along with a number of other unproven and “unregistered products” such as gargling concoctions.

“The TGA is aware that the current pandemic has seen some people take advantage of the heightened vulnerability of consumers,” a spokesperson said.

“[We have] warned consumers to be cautious about products claiming to prevent or cure COVID-19 [coronavirus].”

Dr Chris Moy, chair of the Australian Medical Association ethics and medico-legal committee, told The New Daily the surge in fake products was disappointing but not surprising.

“The bottom line is that there’s currently no scientifically proven treatment – zero, none, forget it,” he said.

“But given the anxiety-provoking nature of this condition, it’s normal at this point for people to be grasping for straws.

“And unfortunately it’s quite often in these circumstances people come out of the woodwork like cockroaches, frankly, to take advantage.”

He said the cost of unproven products was just one area of concern, the other was that people buying such products might opt to ignore medical advice or consider themselves invulnerable.

“If a doctor was caught doing this kind of thing, it would clearly be unethical, but because there are no restraints on Facebook and the like people can get away with it,” Dr Moy said.

“I would ask the community to look past their anxiety and apply the same principles and ethical standards that a doctor would work by when assessing this kind of thing.”

Communications director for consumer advocacy group CHOICE said reports of unproven cures have been flooding in.

Erin Turner told The New Daily that CHOICE has seen an “explosion in online advice from sources with little public health expertise”, including bad recipes for homemade hand sanitiser.

“Remember: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Ms Turner said.

“Double-check claims made about products that say they’ll help prevent or cure any health issues with trusted sources.”

She advised consumers to report companies or retailers selling ‘medical’ products with “unclear or dodgy claims” to the TGA or CHOICE.

Consumer Action Law Centre chief executive Gerard Brody has also joined the chorus encouraging consumers to report “snake oil” cures to the TGA.

Have you seen or heard about supposedly miracle cures for COVID-19?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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