Earlier this month, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, on the behalf of the Ministry of AYUSH, released guidelines for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy-based clinical management protocols to treat COVID-19.
The release of the guidelines was followed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) — an apex lobby of around 3.5 lakh doctors in the country—slamming they ministry’s move to promote alternative medicines and yoga for COVID-19 patients. It challenged the minister to answer five questions, including how many of his ministerial colleagues have so far been treated under AYUSH protocols.
The Union Government had advocated the use of ashwagandha, guduchi, pippali, Ayush 64 tablets and yoga to prevent COVID-19, treat mild symptoms and for post-COVID self-care. Harsh Vardhan tweeted on October 6 that the “upgradation of protocols” has been done in sync with the Indian Council of Medical Research and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The ministry had added that in addition to these medicines, general and dietary measures were to be followed, including a long to-do list like as drinking turmeric milk, sipping kadha, applying medicated oils to the nasal passage and performing steam inhalation with ajwain or eucalyptus oil.
In a press release, IMA’s national president, Rajan Sharma, and secretary general, R.V. Asokan, asked the minister five questions and sought his response. The Association wanted to know how many of his ministerial colleagues were treated under AYUSH protocols, and what was stopping him from handing over COVID care and control to the AYUSH ministry. The IMA demanded that the health minister should “come clean”.
The statement said: “Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has released a document prescribing protocol of prevention of Covid 19 infection and treatment of asymptomatic as well as mild cases of Covid 19 based on AYUSH and yoga. He has arraigned impressive names of institutions to support his prescription. He admits that these are based on empirical evidence which means that the evidence is anecdotal and based on individual subjective experiences. He himself relegates AYUSH as history rather than current by saying Ayurveda has contributed to foundation of modern medicine.”
The five questions asked by the IMA are as follows:
“1. Is there satisfactory evidence regarding the claims made from studies done on COVID 19
patients based on the above criteria ? If so whether the evidence is weak or moderate or
strong? The evidence should be in public domain and available for scientific scrutiny.
2. Whether the severe form of Covid 19 a Hyperimmune status or an immune deficiency
3. Whether the proponents of this claim and his Ministry are prepared to subject themselves
as volunteers to an independent prospective Double Blind Control Study in prevention
and treatment of Covid?
4. How many of his ministerial colleagues have so far made the informed choice of getting
treated under these protocols?
5. What is stopping him from handing over Covid care and control to AYUSH ministry?”
In response to the questions raised by the IMA, scientists working in AYUSH fields — Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy — hit back at the IMA for labelling their medicine systems “unscientific”. About 300 AYUSH scientists — who work at the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) and are part of the CCRAS Scientists Welfare Association (CSWA) — asked the IMA five questions in return, including on the “silence” of allopathic doctors on the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in the COVID-19 treatment protocol.
The Ministry of AYUSH has been promoting ayurveda since the beginning of the pandemic, claiming that alternative medicines can help improve immunity against the novel coronavirus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also promoted the advice given by the ministry in his address to the nation in April. Earlier this week, there were reports of many private hospitals using AYUSH doctors in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). According to reports, popular job sites are chock-a-block with advertisements placed by some of the most well-known hospitals, including popular chains, seeking Ayurvedic and Homeopathic doctors to work as resident medical officers, emergency or casualty medical officers, and to even manage ICUs at night.
Earlier, the IMA had slammed the government's apathy after doctors who died due to COVID-19 were ignored. According to the IMA, 515 doctors have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus as of now.