Since the first two cases of COVID-19 in Ghana were announced, prices of hand sanitizers have increased drastically. This is similar to situations across the world. Where the product has not run out, sellers are charging outrageous prices in order to make huge profits. In Ghana, a bottle of hand sanitizer that sold for 20 GHC or less just a few days ago is now being sold at around 80 GHC or more.
Consequently, many speculations are being made on social media and other platforms. One of them is that local spirits, like akpeteshie, can be used in the absence of hand sanitizer. Others also claim that drinking alcohol, in this case, akpeteshie, will kill the coronavirus.
we found both claims to be false.
Beverages like ‘akpeteshie’, a local brewed spirit made from sugarcane or palm wine, can be used as a substitute for hand sanitizers.
Herbal and local gin bitters often do not meet the required alcohol content for an effective hand rub. Thus, they may not be good substitutes for hand sanitizers against the COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control recommend the use of alcohol-based rubs with ethanol greater than 60 per cent for fighting the COVID-19. Akpeteshie and other locally brewed gin on the market often do not meet this requirement.
According to the Center for Plant Medicine Research, the alcohol percentage of bitters on the market is often less than 45%. The WHO also says the standardized alcohol strength of ‘akpeteshie‘ is between 40 and 50% by volume. Therefore, local gin and other alcoholic beverages on the market may not be “viable substitute for hand rubbing”.
“For a sanitiser to be effective in ridding the hands against the coronavirus, sanitisers must have 60-95% alcohol by volume,” a press statement from the CPMR said. “…alcohol content for bitters on the market is often less than 45%.”
Dubawa also spoke to Mr Roger Ahiable, a Deputy Director of Pharmaceutical Services, Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. He confirmed that, if akpeteshie contains an alcohol percentage less than the required 60-95 per cent, it will not be effective in killing the virus. He added that 70 per cent alcohol content shows optimum disinfectant activity.
Highly concentrated alcohol, which may be useful substitutes, are often not found on the market. Some contain as high as 95 % alcohol and as low as 70% alcohol. Mr Ahiable noted that these beverages are usually diluted to prevent health complications and thus are rarely concentrated enough to serve as a disinfectant. He added that rubbing alcohol can be used as a substitute for hand sanitizers as some contain as high as 95 % alcohol and as low as 70% alcohol
He cautioned that using very concentrated spirits on the hand can cause health issues. Dehydration of the skin, burning sensations on the skin and in some cases, hypersensitive reactions are some of them.
Drinking alcohol kills and prevents COVID-19
Drinking akpeteshie will not kill the coronavirus. Excessive intake of alcohol can cause a range of diseases and thereby weaken your immunity against the coronavirus.
“No, drinking alcohol does not protect you from coronavirus infection. Alcohol should always be consumed in moderation and people who do not drink alcohol should not start drinking in an attempt to prevent the infection,” the WHO says.
Mr Ahiable also added that drinking alcohol will not eliminate the virus.
“Consumption of alcohol by mouth cannot disinfect viral colonies in the respiratory system,” he said. “We shouldn’t cause other systematic damages by alcohol consumption while trying to prevent infection. It is not wise. It will eventually damage the immune strength of the consumer.”
Consumption of alcoholic beverages is not a preventive measure for the coronavirus. In addition, using alcoholic beverages does not guarantee the disinfection of the hands as various beverages have different alcohol volumes. It is important to check the alcohol content before opting to use such beverages as substitutes for hand sanitizers.