In a presentation to the World Health Organization (WHO) on August 20, Gujarat’s health department stated that the state has distributed the homeopathic drug Arsenicum Album 30 to 3.48 crore people – more than half of its total population of about 6.6 crore.
The presentation was about the measures and strategies adopted by the Gujarat government to prevent COVID-19. It stated that the homeopathic drug was being distributed since March, when the first case of COVID -19 was diagnosed in the state. It also claimed that 99.6% percent of those in quarantine who were consuming AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) drugs as “prophylaxis”, a preventive measure, had tested negative for COVID-19.
This apart the State has also been distributing Ukalo (a herbal concoction) Samshamani Vati and Ayush-64 during the pandemic.
In the presentation, which was also shown to the media, the health department claimed: “AYUSH interventions have proven to be immunity boosters. The AYUSH treatment protocol was developed and research is being carried out for assessing the efficacy of the treatment. As many as 33,268 people have benefitted from AYUSH medicines in the quarantine period, half of whom have availed homeopathic medicines.”
Bhavna Patel, the Director of the AYUSH department in Gujarat, had earlier told the media that the results of clinical trials of Arsenicum Album 30 as a “prophylaxis”, currently ongoing in a private laboratory in Bhavnagar, have not shown any clear conclusions yet.
“The homeopathic medicines have been distributed since March, based on the recommendation of an expert committee that includes homeopathic doctors,” she had said.
The Gujarat government has left no stone unturned to promote and distribute AYUSH drugs over the last five months. Two hundred and seventy two AYUSH dispensaries in the state, various NGOs, local and district administration – district development officers, taluka development officers, local revenue officers (talati) – were used to distribute AYUSH drugs. Homeopathic and Ayurvedic doctors were allowed take rounds of the COVID-19 wards in government hospitals and convince the patient to take AYUSH medicines along with allopathic treatment.
“Doctors practising Allopathic medicine would not recommend or prescribe AYUSH medicines to their COVID patients. Hence, AYUSH doctors would be allowed into COVID wards to convince patients to take their drugs along with the usual allopathic treatment. In the end, the patient and their family would take the decision of taking AYUSH drugs alongside their allopathic treatment. However, in many cases where the patient is not stable, we don’t allow the patient to take any other drug aside from the prescribed treatment for COVID-19,” a doctor working in Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, said on the condition of anonymity.
“We also don’t allow patients admitted to the ICU to take AYUSH drugs. The basis of AYUSH medicine is that it doesn’t cause harm irrespective of whether it works or not. But we can’t take that risk in the case of patients who are not stable,” he added.
“Who approved an Arsenic-based drug? Even if we don’t know the dosage, Arsenic is after all injurious to health. It is outrageous and dangerous on the part of a state government to allow AYUSH doctors in allopathic hospitals, especially during the pandemic. Even if the doctors are not directly forced to prescribe AYUSH medicines, the fact that patients are being convinced to take such drugs is intervening with their process of treatment. Besides, there is no scientific proof that any homeopathic or ayurvedic medicine works,” T. Sundaraman, the Global Coordinator of the Peoples Health Movement told NewsClick.
“This push towards AYUSH distracts the state from what actually should be done during a global pandemic. Presenting such measures before an international organisation as the WHO undermines the credibility of the state,” added Sundaraman.
Notably, four registered clinical trials of AYUSH remedies for COVID-19 are currently underway in Gujarat. None have yielded results so far.
“We have three ongoing trials currently related to COVID-19 the in Parul Institute of Ayurveda under Parul University,” said Hemant Toshikane, a principal investigator in one of the clinical trials in the state..
“In the first trial, we had 200 security guards of the University and their families take an Ayurvedic drug aimed to improve the respiratory system. They took the drug for a month, all through the quarantine period. In the second trial, that was sponsored by Dabur, 140 random people were fed Chawanprash for three months. It was aimed as an immunity booster. In our third trial two COVID-19 patients aged around 25 years were treated with Ayurvedic drugs to a successful recovery. However, they were also on allopathic treatment simultaneously. Our primary medicines are Dashamula, Khadiradi in tablet form and a nasal spray,” Toshikane told NewsClick.
The official clinical trial registry, however, does not feature Arsenicum Album 30 in government sponsored trials. The trial details also show that among volunteers, those with mild symptoms of COVID -19 were simultaneously administered antibiotics and vitamin C tablets.