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Coronavirus

Iranian Holy Water as Coronavirus Cure Risks Further Spread

Iranians wearing face masks walk past a mosque in Tehran.
Iranians wearing face masks walk past a mosque in Tehran.
Worldcrunch

TEHRAN — Dubbed "the Prophet's perfume," Shia clerics in Iran are offering a chillingly wrong response to the coronavirus outbreak. Iran's Medical System Organization lodged a formal protest this week against clerics entering hospitals to administer a liquid remedy directly to patients' lips and mouth area, according to the Farsi service of Voice of America.

Video footage showed a cleric circulating among what are estimated to be hundreds of patients, touting "Islamic medicine" as a better response to the pandemic. Doctors warn that the clerics can become carriers, bringing the virus outside hospitals to the faithful elsewhere. The outbreak in Iran is one of the worst in the world. The health ministry reported Friday that the country's death toll had risen to 2,378, with total confirmed infections total at 32,332 cases.

Over the past several weeks, there have been incidents of Shia faithful defying government orders to close mosques and religious shrines to limit the spread of the virus. "The believers are concerned about their identity, especially when scientific research clashes with religion," Haidar Hoballah, a senior teacher at the seminary in the holy city of Qom, told Middle East news site Al-Monitor.

Reacting to these and other reports of clerics touting their own remedies against COVID-19, Iranian Health Minister Sa'id Namaki urged citizens not to think Islamic or traditional medicine could combat coronavirus.


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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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