COVID-19 in India: AYUSH Ministry seeks scientific validation of traditional medicines after initial backlash

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

India's Ministry of AYUSH initiates work for scientific validation of traditional medicines after drawing criticism ©Getty Images
India's Ministry of AYUSH initiates work for scientific validation of traditional medicines after drawing criticism ©Getty Images

Related tags: India, AYUSH, Ayurveda

India’s Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) is aiming to put a stop to false claims for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 by setting up a task force to evaluate products and practices.

Earlier, the Ministry of AYUSH published an advisory suggesting the use of alternative medicines can act as an immunity booster against COVID-19.

Since then, the Ministry has received flak from researchers and medical practitioners​ who criticised this advisory for the lack of scientific data, citing it as ‘inappropriate’, ‘misleading’ and ‘potentially dangerous.’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed AYUSH practitioners on the importance of fact-checking unsubstantiated claims, and insisted organisations must come together for evidence-based research.

Heeding the PM’s advice, the Ministry of AYUSH then issued a notification asking practitioners, research institutions and manufacturers to contribute suggestions on therapies to boost immunity.

These will be evaluated by a task force, comprising representatives from the department of biotechnology (DBT), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and AYUSH practitioners.

As of April 14, there were more than 2,000 proposals submitted to the Ministry’s website. Around 1,300 of these proposals were Ayurveda-related, 700 under homoeopathy, and 100 for Unani and Siddha each.

Strong tradition

PM Modi also called for the AYUSH ministry to spread the message of India’s traditional medicines and medical practices to the world, while observing WHO guidelines.

He told citizens: “Follow the instructions issued by AYUSH ministry to enhance your immunity. Regularly consume warm water, (and) ‘kadha’​,” reported the country’s Press Information Bureau. Kadha is an Ayurvedic immune-boosting herbal tea made from basil, cinnamon, black pepper, dry ginger and raisin.  

The Ministry of AYUSH has since issued several guidelines for boosting the immune system in particular for respiratory health. This time, with a disclaimer, “The above advisory does not claim to be treatment for COVID-19​.”

Among the general recommendations involved drinking warm water throughout the day, and using spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, garlic) in cooking.

Ayurvedic measures were also recommended such as consuming Chyavanprash every morning, drinking Kadha, Golden Milk (turmeric powder), applying sesame or coconut oil or ghee in nostrils, and rinsing mouth with coconut/sesame oil.

Extended lockdown, extended worries

On April 14, PM Modi said in a televised address that the government was extending the nationwide lockdown to May 3.

The country has been on lockdown since March 25, where only essential businesses were allowed to operate.

In light of the new extension, PM Modi said over the next week, every state and district will be evaluated in a ‘litmus​’ test. According to him, if areas pass the ‘litmus​’ test, it indicates they are less likely to turn into a hot-spot, and necessary activities may resume. A set of guidelines pertaining to this will be issued this week.

Hot-spots have increased three-fold to 150 over the past week, complicating efforts to contain the virus. Local media, LiveMint​ reported 100 of these districts are major manufacturing hubs, citing disruptions to supply chain.

If lockdown restrictions are eased, it might be good news for health and nutrition businesses across the country. Earlier we reported that Dabur India​ is suspending several manufacturing units, but keeping its flagship product, Chyawanprash manufacturing open.

Health supplement firm, Pure Nutrition and functional spice supplier Akay Ingredients have stopped all production and are appealing for the authorities to be classified as essential commodities.

Akay Ingredients told us financial loss runs up to USD8 million, with stock sitting in warehouses, unable to export.

For Pure Nutrition which has an online and offline presence, its e-commerce business was also hit as supplements could not be delivered.

Dietary supplement giant, Swisse which entered India in March via e-commerce said it is monitoring this situation closely.

PM Modi had called upon AYUSH medicine producers to utilise their resources to produce essential items such as sanitisers which are in high demand now.

As of April 14, India has more than 10,000 infected cases and 339 deaths.

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