Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov has become the latest in a long line of world leaders to promote potentially lethal fake cures for Covid-19. On April 16, he posted on Instagram and Facebook that Kyrgyzstan might use a tincture made from aconite roots to treat the virus. 

“If symptoms appear, go to the hospital immediately, do not lie at home. Our doctors have found a way to cure the disease in a day or two at the initial stage,” read a caption attached to a video of people apparently labeling bottles of the preparation.

To date, Kyrgyzstan has registered over 92,600 coronavirus cases and 1,561 deaths.

Known locally as issyk-kul root, aconite has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy. Some studies suggest that chemical compounds found in the plant might have some health benefits, but the research is scant. The overwhelming majority of medical experts consider it to be highly toxic and warn against its use in any form. 

“People use aconite in folk medicine, primarily against cancer,” said Egor Borisov, a doctor at the Emergency Medicine Center in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek . “Mainstream medicine does not support or use such treatments. Aconite is primarily a poison.”

Following widespread media criticism, the original post on Japarov’s Instagram was deleted. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service, Facebook also removed a similar post for disseminating “incorrect information that may pose a threat to human health, including on the treatment of COVID-19 or its prevention.” However the president’s office stated that it had removed the posts independently. 

Four aconite poisonings have already been reported in Kyrgyzstan. The country’s health minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliyev told the independent Kyrgiz news site that the incidents involved cancer patients and were not connected to Covid-19. He also suggested that they had been self-medicating and had probably made mistakes with the dosage. At a press conference on April 16, he publicly drank the tincture.

World Health Organization representatives in Kyrgyzstan have said that there is no data to suggest that aconite has any beneficial effect against Covid-19 and have warned strongly against the use of unproven and untested treatments. 

Japarov’s statements have come as a surprise. Until recently, he had called for people to wear masks and get vaccinated against the virus. Now, it appears that he is just one of many leaders — from Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov — who have embraced dangerous pseudoscience during the pandemic.