As the medical community deals with a rising circulation of fake news and vaccines, the government takes a back seat and even encourages it under tags of hyper-nationalism. While the Health Ministry holds its silence, the country’s healthcare system stands the risk of taking a few steps back in time writes DR. ARUN MITRA.
THE Indian Medical Association (IMA) has raised pertinent objections to the promotion of Patanjali’s CORONIL by the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on both scientific and medical grounds. Questions have been raised whether the Health Minister, who is an ENT surgeon trained in modern medicine, is unaware of the number of clinical trials any new drug or vaccine has to undergo before it can be sanctioned for use.
The pandemic has instilled a sense of understanding amongst the masses on the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines that have been launched in a short period. The Health Minister’s act can be seen as a violation of medical ethics that prohibits doctors to promote commercial products. Furthermore, it also amounts to the negation of scientific reasoning by a person trained in modern medicine. The action holds the minister accountable to answer the reason behind his promotion of CORONIL taking into consideration that he will have to face serious criticisms from the medical community.
Baba Ramdev had previously put forward claims associated with CORONIL that were rejected by many medical councils in the country. This time around, he’s involved the Health Minister in his promotional activity while marketing the product for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 as well as the symptoms that surface post its treatment. The endorsement puts forward an unfavourable impression of the minister who currently holds the Chair of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation (WHO). While Ramdev is well known for his false claims, a doctor must be held accountable for his statements.
The Health Ministry Fails to Take A Stand Amidst Rising Criticism
Ironically Dr. Harsh Vardhan has refrained from taking a stand on several medical issues. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation, said that we won the Kurukshetra war in 18 days and will now defeat Corona in 21 days, the Health Minister did not give his scientific opinion on this. This led to many medical professionals follow the bandwagon and clap Taalies (steel plates) or sound Shankhs (shells) to make the pandemic run its course. However, many also challenged such absurd ideas and even exposed the hollowness behind showering flowers on healthcare workers at a time when even basic protective equipment for them was unavailable.
Later when the PM said that the vaccine against COVID-19 will be ready by August 15th, 2020, the ICMR director Dr. Bhargava issued strict instructions to the states/medical fraternity to initiate speedy vaccine trials. Unfortunately, the Health Minister maintained his silence even as the ICMR director retracted his statements after drawing sharp criticism from scientific organisations. Dr. Vardhan has also stayed away from giving any opinion on the treatment of coronavirus by Gau Mutra (cow’s urine).
Lack of Evidence Supporting Medieval Healthcare Practices Endorsed by Ministers
Such occurrences are unfortunate and detrimental to the healthcare of our people. Several prominent people in the government or otherwise are spreading erratic ideas regarding healthcare. There is also much discussion around the benefits of Gau Mutra and Panchgavya (a combination of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, jaggery, ghee, banana, tender coconut and water).
In response to an RTI filed on the benefits of cow urine on human health, the Guru Angad Dev University of Veterinary Sciences (GADVASU), Ludhiana denied the existence of any such data with them. Even the Department of Animal Husbandry Government of India informed that they did not have any information regarding the benefits of cow urine on human health.
It appears there is a subtle move to constantly feed outdated unscientific ideas into the minds of people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shortly after coming to power, while addressing the Science Congress had complimented ancient medicine and surgical skills in India. This narrative has since set the tone for the future. In yet another instance, the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra Pradesh University, G Nageswar Rao, while speaking at the 106th Science Congress at Jalandhar falsely associated modern medicine with Mahabharata. He claimed, “We had hundreds of Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell research and test tube technology”. He added that while “it happened a few thousand years ago”, it indicated the advancement of science in ancient India. Arogya Bharati, an organisation associated with rural health also falsely claimed that couples should recite slokas to produce babies of their choice.
The spread of such bizarre and unscientific ideas stems from a deep-rooted conspiracy to continue the narrative of hyper-nationalism of ancient times by eulogizing something which never existed and lacks evidence. Life is a dynamic process and always moves ahead crossing the impediments from time to time. What was true a few hundred years back may not be true today. Dr. Harsh Vardhan should have realised that. Any wrong act by him will bring disgrace to the country more so when he holds a position in the WHO. This also pushes the healthcare system in our country to medieval times. (IPA Service)
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.