Fri, 11 Apr 2003

SARS scare boosts sales of vitamins

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Fears of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has boosted the income of drug traders as people rush to take vitamins and other food supplements to ward off the spread of the virus.

"The disease brings luck for my business," said Teguh, a street vendor on Jl. Tomang Raya, West Jakarta.

He said that before news of the disease broke, he sold about 60 vitamin C tablets, each for Rp 500 (about 5 US cents), per day.

"But now I can even sell more than 100 tablets per day. Once, I even sold 160 in a day," he said.

SARS is a new mystery virus causing panic around the world.

The latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows there are 2,722 cases worldwide and have been 106 deaths.

Doctors said that building a resistance by maintaining a proper diet, ensuring adequate rest and regular exercise could mean avoiding infection.

Dr. Sardikin Giriputro, the head of the SARS treatment center at Sulianti Saroso Hospital in Sunter, North Jakarta, said a balanced diet was enough.

"Good nutrition can actually be provided from our daily diet. With adequate rest, drinking enough water and avoiding smoking, someone will be able to maintain resistance," Dr. Sardikin said.

He said a daily dose of 500 milligram of vitamin C was enough. "Any consumption more than that will be wasted through the urine."

Intensive advertisements for vitamin and other food supplements have became a new phenomenon lately. They all claim to prevent SARS. The claims seem to be working in terms of sales.

Karlina, 32, an employee of a private bank, was at a drugstore looking for vitamins. "This SARS disease somehow reminds me to consume vitamins and other food supplements regularly," she said.

"I usually miss taking it daily, but now I have to be more disciplined for my own sake," said Karlina, who preferred using supplements instead of relying on a balanced diet.

She said she now consumed about five 500-milligram vitamin C tablets per day.

"I do not have a healthy diet, so I might miss something," she said.

Karlina said her tight schedule meant it was difficult to exercise.

The situation resulted in robust sales for drugstores.

Cinde, owner of Sejahtera, a drugstore in Glodok Plaza, West Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that sales of vitamins, food supplements, hand sanitizers and Chinese herbal drugs had jumped 200 percent.

"These capsules are actually for those who want clearer breathing and better respiration, but maybe people think it could help them prevent SARS so they rushed for it anyway," she said, showing a small thin box with pink-colored Chinese characters around it.

Yoesoef from a drugstore in the Pramuka market, East Jakarta, said sales of vitamins and supplements had increased by about 100 percent.