09/10/2020 2:01 PM IST | Updated 09/10/2020 7:28 PM IST

Modi Govt's Protocols On Covid-19 Have Been Dicey, IMA's Latest Missive Is Proof

The statement puts a spotlight again on the government's approach to the pandemic in India.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan in a file photo. 

The Narendra Modi government’s Ministry of AYUSH has been issuing different protocols regarding Covid-19 in the past few months and much of it has to do with Ayurveda and Unani. 

Now, after health minister Harsh Vardhan released a list of protocols on “prevention of Covid-19” and treatment of asymptomatic patients through Ayurveda, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has issued a terse statement asking the government a series of questions.

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The IMA asked, “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?” 

it also asked Harsh Vardhan if any of his ministry colleagues have gone under this protocol that he has backed for other Indians. 

The statement said, “IMA demands that the Union Health Minister should come clean on the above posers. If not, he is inflicting a fraud on the nation and gullible patients by calling placebos as drugs.” 

The statement comes at a time when the ministry has regularly suggested ayurveda and yoga as a way of “boosting immunity” to protect oneself from Covid. 

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Ayush Ministry’s protocols

This set of measures issued in April, which is still on the health ministry website, says, ” Ayurveda, being the science of life, propagates the gifts of nature in maintaining healthy and happy living. Ayurveda’s extensive knowledge base on preventive care, derives from the concepts of “Dinacharya” - daily regimes and “Ritucharya” - seasonal regimes to maintain healthy life. It is a plant-based science. The simplicity of awareness about oneself and the harmony each individual can achieve by uplifting and maintaining his or her immunity is emphasized across Ayurveda’s classical scriptures.

Ministry of AYUSH recommends the following self-care guidelines for preventive
health measures and boosting immunity with special reference to respiratory
health. These are supported by Ayurvedic literature and scientific publications.” 

Some of these methods include drinking warm water, daily yoga and meditation and adding spices such as turmeric and cumin in food, among other things. 

It also suggested eating chavanprash and drinking herbal tea, but doesn’t say anything about wearing masks and washing hands.

This guideline released in September also suggests chavanprash, saline gargles, taking “AYUSH medicines” among other things. 

In this document published in March, the ministry suggested management of symptoms of “Covid-19 like illnesses”. 

This is what it prescribed: 

ii. Symptom management of COVID-19 like illnesses
1. AYUSH-64 : 02 tablets twice a day
2. Agasthya Hareetaki : 05 gm twice a day with warm water
3. Anuthaila/Sesame oil 02 drops in each nostril daily in the morning
1. Nilavembu Kudineer/Kaba Sura Kudineer— decoction 60m1 twice a day
2. Adathodai Manapagu — Syrup 10 ml twice a day
Various medicine which found to be effective in treating flu like illness are Arsenicum
album, Btyonia alba, Rhus toxico dendron, Belladonna Gelsemium Eupatorium
perfolia tum.
All these medicines should be taken in consultation with qualified physicians of
respective AYUSH systems.
iii. Add on Interventions to the conventional care
1. A YUSH-64 : 02 tablets twice a day
2. Agastya Hareetaki: 05 gm twice a day with warm water
1. Vishasura Kudineer: decoction 60m1 twice a day
2. Kaba Sura Kudineer — decoction 60m1 twice a day

The latest protocol released by the health minister earlier this weeks also lists “dietary measures, yoga and Ayurvedic herbs” for prevention of coronavirus and to boost immunity.

Does boosting immunity really work?

The IMA statement comes even as health experts worldwide have suggested that “boosting immunity”, as claimed by the wellness industry across the world, may not really be an option. 

“There’s no way you can scientifically ‘boost’ your immune system,” Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist based at the University of Sussex, told HuffPost UK earlier this month.. “Medically, it doesn’t really make sense – the immune system isn’t a switch that you turn on and turn up high.” 

Dr Macciochi said that it was a common misconception that  to talk about the immune system as a binary of “weak” or “strong”. 

“It’s like an orchestra,” she explains, “it all has to play together for the song to sound correct. If one of the instruments is screeching in the background, it knocks everything else out.”

Spotlight on govt’s mismanagement 

The IMA statement has once again put the spotlight in the way in which the Narendra Modi government has handled the pandemic, with India now the country with the second-highest number of Covid cases. 

Months into the pandemic, overworked healthcare staff are struggling to deal with the inflow of patients while battling pay cuts and exhaustion. The government’s ill-planned lockdown has damaged the economy and caused suffering to millions of workers. It has also been tight-lipped about the steps taken to strengthen the public health system and sources of funding such as the opaque PM CARES Fund

Most state and central ministers who have contracted Covid-19 have been treated at private hospitals rather than put their faith in government facilities, as this August report from Scroll shows. Even home minister Amit Shah was treated at a private facility when he contracted Covid. 

A number of international media outlets have criticised the government’s approach to the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz criticised how India implemented the lockdown, saying the ensuing migrant crisis exacerbated the pandemic in the country.

“It (India) picked up one idea that is important. Lockdown. Did not think about what it means in a poor country. How are people going to live, large number of people moving across the country. One could not have imagined anything worse for spreading the disease,” he said.

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