The video is part of a spate of fake and harmful medical posts on social media platforms, where Filipinos are among the world’s heaviest users.
Even before Covid-19 locked people at home and scared them to see a doctor, many in the Philippines were looking for cures online because they were cheaper and more accessible.
During the pandemic, AFP’s fact check team saw an explosion of misinformation about untested cosmetic products and rapid treatments for chronic diseases.
The majority appear as free posts or paid ads on Facebook, the most popular social media site among the 76 million internet users in the Philippines.
They can circulate unnoticed for weeks or even months as Facebook struggles to keep up with the deluge of misinformation flooding its platform.
While posts aren’t reviewed before they are published, Facebook has a multi-level, largely automated review system to review ads before they are published.
Many of the products are advertised in videos that have been manipulated to appear as if they are recommended by real medical professionals.
Others appear in fake news reports, while some are touted by vloggers like Demasudlay.
AFP fact-checkers have refuted dozens of claims, including a rigged Filipino news report that appeared to be promoting an herbal supplement for diabetics as an alternative to insulin.
A single post of the fake video was viewed more than three million times, shared more than seven thousand times, and attracted nearly ten thousand comments from people, many of whom wanted to buy it.
Demasudlay’s 15-minute video was posted in August 2022 and has been viewed more than ten thousand times.
She falsely claimed that the “Bar Bilat Virginity Soap” was approved by the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for skin conditions and as a vaginal tightening agent.
“Bilat” means “vagina” in a local Filipino language.
In fact, the FDA has warned consumers against using the “unapproved” soap due to potential health risks ranging from skin irritation to organ failure.
A few months later, Demasudlay admitted in another video that the soap made her “itch to the point of bleeding” — but she kept promoting it.
Demasudlay declined to be interviewed by AFP.
– Global issue –
Filipino doctors, concerned about the explosion of medical misinformation during the pandemic, began posting videos containing free information about common health conditions.
But the move backfired when mistreatment advocates used clips from these videos and inserted them into their own posts for credibility.
Geraldine Zamora, a rheumatologist in the capital Manila, was among the victims.
In 2020, she started recording and posting videos on TikTok, where she has more than 60,000 followers.
“It was a good thing for us because we were able to extend our medical knowledge to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to consult with doctors,” Zamora said.
Her videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
But then the footage was used to promote an unregistered brand of arthritis supplements that the FDA had warned consumers about.
The manipulated posts were viewed tens of thousands of times before being removed from Facebook.
Zamora said some of her patients are considering purchasing the product, believing she endorses it.
The World Health Organization told AFP that “inappropriate advertising and promotion” of unregistered medical products has long been a global problem and the pandemic may have made it worse.
Filipinos are particularly vulnerable to false or misleading health claims due to the country’s shortage of doctors and their heavy internet use, said Eleanor Castillo, a public health expert at the University of the Philippines.
“Even if we have our rural health units or health centers in the villages, many of them don’t have doctors or they visit once a week or twice a month, especially in remote areas,” Castillo said.
The consequences of using unapproved treatments can be serious.
Vicente Ocampo, president of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology, said patients as young as 12 were going blind after using eye drops bought online instead of seeing a doctor.
“It saddens us that people willingly believe advertisements that claim to cure all eye problems as quickly as possible and pay exorbitant prices for these eye drops,” Ocampo said.
Ocampo said Facebook posts were selling an unregistered brand of eye drops that had used pictures of real doctors and the academy’s name.
But the Academy has struggled to get traction with its warnings about the misinformation.
His statement, issued in September 2022 notifying consumers of the bogus posts, received 57 interactions — likes, shares, and comments.
In the same month, four ads for the product verified by AFP fact-checkers received nearly 34,000 interactions.
Some of the viral medical posts AFP has debunked on Facebook were paid advertising.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company,’s advertising policy prohibits any “promises or suggestions of unrealistic outcomes” for “health, weight loss, or economic opportunity.”
It states that over-the-counter drug ads should comply with the licenses and permits required by local laws.
However, a keyword search of Meta’s ad library found hundreds of ads for products that were debunked by AFP and are still on the site.
Meta told AFP that it is working with Philippine law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal commercial listings.