H1N1 becomes marketing tool in Saudi

swine-flu-adJEDDAH 20th November 2009: (Courtesy ArabNews.com) Taking advantage of swine flu fears, companies are advertising products that make claims of being effective against the H1N1 virus and other germs. But doctors warn to be wary of unfounded claims made by some products in the marketplace, and to be aware that the current swine flu pandemic has become a marketing tool.

Take for example a recent newspaper advertisement for a nose clip that positions tiny air filters close to the nostrils while you sleep with a claim it will, “reduce bacteria and virus infections.”

Another advertisement for an SR3,000 air purifier lists H1N1 among the germs that the product combats.

Dr. Abdul Hafeez Khoja, who manages the clinics affiliated with Jeddah’s King Fahd Hospital, said that while these devices may or may not have legitimate uses, the “phobia against H1N1” is being used for “marketing purposes.”

“I doubt that they (the products) help against the viruses,” he added, referring to the nose filter and the indoor air purifier.

A spokesman for the company selling the nose filter who did not want to be named said the product reduces the chances of contracting viruses by “40 to 60 percent” and that it is approved and used in different countries, including Turkey and Iran.

Responding to this claim, Khoja said even if it were true that the nose clip had any health benefits, a basic surgical or dust mask would be even more effective because it covers both the nose and mouth. But, he added, even masks are unnecessary while you sleep and should only be used in places crowded with people.

So how do consumers know if a product lauding health benefits does what is advertised?

“It (the advertisement) must not be published unless it has the logo of the SFDA,” said Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) spokesman Mazin Al-Ismaeel.

However, Abdul Rahman Al-Haza, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information (which oversees all media matters in the Kingdom), said advertisements for health-related products do not need the logo displayed in the ad.

“Daily newspapers and magazines should not accept an ad for any medical product unless the company provides an approval from the Ministry of Health and the SFDA, but it is not necessary that the logo of the SFDA or the Ministry of Health appears,” said Al-Haza.

A source at the company advertising the air purifier (which states in an advertisement that it is effective against the H1N1 virus) said that his product doesn’t need the SFDA endorsement because it is an air purifier like others in the market that do not need authorization from health authorities.