Unscientific methods to prevent COVID-19 infection have become a tumbling block in the fight against the pandemic. Unproven methods, including steaming and consuming ayurvedic and other herbal drinks, are being widely projected as effective measures to protect one’s self from the COVID-19 infection, which scientists and doctors have condemned.
Not to mention that a majority of those propagating such ideas are from the right wing political parties and organisations. In Tamil Nadu too, such practices are continuing; the state government is being no exemption as it set up Siddha Care Centres for COVID-19 patients with moderate symptoms.
The scientific community and healthcare professionals led by doctors have decried such measures, resulting in the new government ban on public and mass steam inhalation. The demand for curbing the traditional, untested methods have gained momentum as such methods are giving wrong ideas to the people and also making them vulnerable to the virus.
After severe backlashes on such methods being followed, Tamil nadu health minister finally instructed to end such practices, much to the relief of the scientific community.
RIGHT WING LEADS CAMPAIGN
Not surprisingly, the right wing groups are leading the unscientific campaigns on different forums. Organisations affiliated with the Sangh Parivar have initiated several measures which have been referred to as regressive by health experts.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Coimbatore and BJP Mahila Morcha national president Vanathi Srinivasan on May 15 inaugurated a steam inhalation station and mobile steam inhalation vehicle. The event was organised by ‘Seva Bharathi’, a right wing outfit. The frontline workers of Coimbatore corporation were the first ‘beneficiaries’ of the steam station and the vehicle, Vanathi tweeted.
Prof Rajamanickam, general secretary of the All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN), said, “Such moves could end up in high contraction, rather than prevention of the viral spread.”
Mobile Steaming Unit Setup by Seva Bharathi, a right wing group
People inhaling steam from the Mobile steam vehicle inaugurated by the BJP MLA
DMK GOVT, RAILWAY POLICE FOLLOW SUIT
On the other hadn, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) ministers were seen inaugurating the Siddha Care Centres with steam facilities, which also attracted criticism from the medical fraternity. The erstwhile All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government had followed similar measures to establish centres in all districts during the first wave.
DMK Ministers inaugurating steaming unit in a Siddha care centre
The Tamil Nadu railway police soon followed suit by establishing a steaming facility at the Chennai central railway station, where dozens of people were found utilising the facility.
The untested and unproven methods soon attracted criticism while the possibility of an even faster spread due to mass steam inhalation was also flagged. Doctors have also pointed out the risks associated with excessive inhalation of steam with medicines as well.
Commenting on the development, Prof Rajamanickam said, “Such mass gatherings will only bring adverse effects. The medical fraternity has warned of the possibilities of people getting affected by seizures due to steam inhalation. Simple home made remedies could help prevent fever and cough, but following those measures for COVID-19 prevention is unfortunate”.
‘GOVT SHOULD REFRAIN FROM SUCH PRACTICES’
The newly sworn in DMK government, in addition to expanding the medical infrastructure, has also been inaugurating Siddha care centres across different cities. COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms were given treatment here, said health minister M Subramaniam.
However, the move did not find acceptance even among the people's representatives of the DMK. The party’s Dharmapuri MP and medical practitioner Dr S Senthil Kumar demanded the government to refrain from unscientific approaches.
“The government is also advocating traditional medicines for COVID-19 infected persons, which is not correct and acceptable. The governments should follow the protocols recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to treat the infected,” Prof Rajamanickam said.
The government finally yielded to the pressure and the health minister warned against the steaming practice.
“The practice of inhaling steam is spreading among the public. It has been shared on social media that such practices will prevent Covid-19. But the hot pressurised air could affect the lungs and when people inhale it with their mouths open, the chances of the virus spreading to the next person is very high,” health minister M Subramaniam said. ”Also, steam inhalation cannot be considered as a medical treatment. Infected persons should reach the hospital and get medical help rather than indulging in self-medication,” he added.
MISINFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA
The social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp are filled with recommendations to counter the COVID-19 spread. Several messages on steaming, consuming ayurvedic and herbal mixture drinks are being spread without scientific temper.
Messages such as how the Chinese won the war against COVID-19 by simple steam inhalation and drinking hot water is widely circulated. Another message strongly recommends the public to consume one herbal drink per day for all seven days in a week to stay protected from the viral infection.
Another section, which includes healers, are campaigning that the COVID-19 virus does not exist and people are being fooled by the pharma industry which wants to sell vaccines. Few healers have been campaigning against wearing masks claiming that ‘masks prevent the inflow of oxygen to lungs and oxygen in the atmosphere is sufficient for people with less SpO2 levels’.
The medical fraternity has condemned such claims and demanded the government to ensure such propaganda is stopped to prevent misconception among the people.
“The government should create awareness about such unscientific recommendations and ensure vaccination is carried out at a faster pace. Countries like Newzealand and the USA have countered the second wave by vaccination and not by following unscientific approaches. The misconceptions must be eliminated and AIPSN is campaigning to create such awareness”, Prof Rajamanickam said.