For about a month, thousands of people, several of them Covid-19 patients, had been thronging Krishnapatnam town in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district for free “herbal medicines” against Covid-19, triggering concerns over the spread of the deadly infection.
Bonigi Anandayya, a self-proclaimed ayurvedic practitioner, distributed his herbal concoctions and a popular eye drop among gatherers, who were often found violating social distancing norms and the strict curbs imposed to arrest the second wave of the disease. While a section of district officials said his “medicines” promised to boost immunity against the coronavirus, there were others who claimed the treatment worked even among those suffering from breathlessness.
On Friday, the Andhra government stopped the distribution of the so-called ayurvedic medicines. The state, however, has not taken any action against him because his “medicines have not shown any visible side-effects”, according to a report by the Nellore district magistrate to the state government on May 17. The report, however, said Anandayya was not and authorised practitioner and his eye drop could have negative effects in the long run.
Health department officials also said samples of what he distributed will be tested by a team of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s premier scientific body. An ICMR team is likely to fly down to Nellore on Saturday.
“As soon as we found out about this, the district administration intervened and stopped the individual from distributing these medicines,” Nellore district magistrate KVN Chakradhar Babu said.
Addressing a press conference, Anandayya said he had been selling his “medicines” for a year, benefitting even “terminally ill” people. He said people criticising him should first speak to those who have got desired results.
District officials said they learnt about the crowd at Anandayya’s distribution centre only recently, while local journalists said the rush had increased over the past one month.
Experts maintain that there is no magic bullet to cure Covid-19. And though there is no scientific evidence of Anandayya’s concoctions being effective, ruling YSR Congress Party MLA Govardhan Reddy (Sarvepalli district) backed Anandayya’s treatment, going to the extent of saying it helped Covid patients having breathing problems and other health complications.
Earlier this month, the AYUSH ministry said it had launched a nationwide campaign to distribute poly herbal ayurvedic drug AYUSH 64 and Sidha medicine Kabasura Kudineer for Covid-19 patients in home isolation (mild to moderate cases). The efficacy of these drugs has been proved through robust multi-centre clinical trials, a ministry statement said. The ministry has also advised immunity-boosting measures through ayurveda as a preventive step.
Anandayya told mediapersons he was not only confident that his medicines will be approved by authorities, but he also intended to distribute them to every district in the state.
Reacting to this, district medical health officer Dr Rajalakshmi said: “The individual is free to approach relevant authorities to obtain permissions through pre-established procedures. No supply or distribution will be allowed until then.”
STATE GOVT RED-FLAGS EYE DROPS
An independent investigation conducted by a six-member team led by the Nellore district magistrate revealed that the “person dispensing the medicines is not a qualified professional in ayurvedic medicine and the formula narrated by him is not part of any standard recipe”.
Moreover, the same report also highlighted that the probe team collectively gave a preliminary opinion that the ingredients of the eye drops may be harmful in the long run.
When News18 reached out to the state government for an official response on why unapproved herbal drugs were being distributed by a self-proclaimed ayurvedic practitioner, a health department official said the matter was brought to the administration’s notice only recently.
“Neither has the state government endorsed these medicines, nor is it distributing them. We are waiting for ICMR’s reports. However, there has been no negative feedback from the people who took these medicines," this official added, requesting anonymity.
Samples of the “medicines” have also been sent to a lab in Hyderabad for further analysis.
While the probe report was filed at the beginning of this week, no restrictions were placed on Anandayya from distributing his concoctions, including the eye drop that has been red-flagged.
Before Friday’s crackdown, thousands of people trickled in from different parts of the state despite a lockdown from 12 noon to 6 am.
The serpentine queues also included Covid patients and their caregivers, who came to know about the herbal pellets through word of mouth and WhatsApp forwards, according to local journalists.
A senior citizen on oxygen support told News18 that he travelled nearly 40km to reach the place.
“I was undergoing treatment at a government hospital in Kota mandal. But doctors there asked me to shift to another hospital for better treatment. They gave up on me. But instead of going anywhere else, I came to this place and took the herbal mixture and eye drops. I already feel better,” the elderly person said, asking not to be named.
Another person said his relative recovered from an eye infection he had developed weeks after recovering from Covid. “Ayurveda is science; home-made medicines have natural healing properties,” he said.