Kiribati Has No COVID-19 Cases and Some Think That’s Because of Coconuts
Aformer British colony in the Central Pacific has been revealed as one of the 13 countries in the world that has managed to remain coronavirusfree.
Kiribati is a set of islands and is one of the poorest and furthest flung of all countries in the globe with a Christian population of just 116,000. The islands have a total land area of 800 square kilometres and are vulnerable to any rise in sea levels.
Coconuts and COVID-19
Kiribati, which gained its independence in 1979, has coconut palms everywhere, Star Online reports.
They provide everything needed to exist on the island – wood for boats and buildings, thatch for roofing and flooring, fibre for ropes and cloth.
Coconuts, known as moimoto on the island, also provides hydration and nutrition but is now being claimed to be the key to the island’s coronavirus-free status. Rooti Tianaira, a primary school teacher in Tarawa, the island’s capital, said: “We’re using moimoto to defend against the virus.It’s very rich in vitamin C and vitamin A. Our ancestors used to eat grated coconut and noni - another indigenous fruit, known for its pungent taste but reputed healthgiving properties - for breakfast, and drink sour toddy (fermented coconut juice).
“They were strong, without sickness. So now, these local fruits are used as medicine, to build up our immune system, that’s the idea. They are sold at stalls by the road.”
Despite the number of coconuts outnumbering the island’s population Rimon Rimon, a local journalist, warded off claims of profiteering saying it’s common for them to be sold by traders
Social media and misinformation
He said: “Actually, selling coconuts is not unusual in Tarawa. “Not everyone has their own coconut tree, especially in the more populated areas, so those without jobs but who have a tree at home sometimes sell coconuts. But saying they can prevent coronavirus? That’s a new one to me!”
The powers of moimoto is one of the many “silly rumours” about COVID-19 that have been circulating in Kiribati, according to Mr Rimon, which is accelerated by the recent growth in social media in a republic with the UN status as a least developed country (LDC).
“It’s a major issue here,” Mr Rimon said.
“Most people only got access to the internet recently, and it’s just bombarding them with information.
“They don’t know how to differentiate fake news, and so they promote what’s not true.
“The coconut thing is harmless, but there’s also been a rumour that kava can stop COVID-19.” “That was a ridiculous rumour and the authorities had to run a campaign telling people this was not true,” Mr Rimon says.
“I’m an educated man, I’ve lived overseas, but many people here haven’t had exposure to the outside world. You’d be surprised what kind of things they think are an issue.
“The government has no social media policy, so it’s difficult to control where people get their information. The government needs to look at how people access information, warn them that they will get in trouble if they spread rumours.”
Child Fund NZ staff in Kiribati visit a family in Betio, Tarawa. They are supporting Kiribati with its COVID-19 preparedness by delivering hygiene kits.