"Coronil can cure Covid-19 in 14 days," said Ramdev, founder of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, stirring up a hornet's nest on Tuesday. The yoga guru launched the product this week in a much-publicised press conference , going to town with his ayurvedic drug, announcing that a patient need not take any other medicine if he takes Coronil. A few hours later, the government of India, with a slight rap on Patanjali's knuckles, sought answers from the ayurveda giant on how a claim of this nature was made without keeping the ministry of Ayush in the know. This reaction from the government, described by many as mild, raises more questions than it gives answers. Here is why.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Shripad Yesso Naik, minister of state for Ayush, claimed that Arsenicum Album 30, a homeopathic concoction pushed by his department, will keep Covid-19 at bay. "I assure you, take Arsenicum Album, and Covid will not touch you," he said. While the ministry has sought answers from Patanjali on Coronil, the minister himself did not answer questions on why the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has not endorsed the claim on Arsenicum Album 30.
"This has been used for the treatment of cholera as well," Naik said. This homeopathic medicine had been recommended by the ministry of Ayush as early as March this year. The result? In many places like Mumbai, this medicine was bought and distributed in large quantities in containment zones.
So far there has been no evidence that this medicine, given for a broad spectrum of respiratory illnesses, is truly beneficial. Dr Anant Bhan, researcher in bioethics and global health, and member of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, says this reflects poorly on the Ayush ministry. "This can be misleading. This medicine has got little scientific data to back it and to then claim that it has benefits to cure Covid-19 can give a false sense of assurance," Bhan said. The fact that the ICMR is not talking about this drug indicates a disconnect between the health ministry and the Ayush ministry.
"They need to improve the interdepartmental coordination and regulation," said Amulya Nidhi, of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
However, the ministry of Ayush, in collaboration with the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), has started clinical trials for testing formulations of four ayurvedic herbs in fighting the novel coronavirus. The medicines are ashwagandha, guduchi, yashtimadhu, peepli, and another formulated drug, Ayush 64.
While the results of all of these are awaited, the push for ayurvedic medicines to boost immunity has come from Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. In fact, a task force was set up for scientific validation of ayurveda for treatment of Covid-19.
Experts say claiming that a drug is going to keep you safe from the pandemic can get people to just consume that medicine and throw caution to the wind. The Ayush ministry and ministry of health and family welfare should clarify the difference between immunity booster and Covid-19 treatment drugs, they say. Right now, the advice for Arsenicum Album says this is for patients with mild symptoms of Covid-19. "Ars Alb 30 or Camphor 1m. These both preventive medicines for Covid ( 4 pills, three times, three days)", was a message that did the rounds in posh Mumbai high-rise apartments for days in the month of May.
The claims by Ramdev are also similar. Here, the Uttarakhand government has also stepped in. "As per Patanjali's application, we issued them a licence. They didn't mention coronavirus, we only approved the licence for immunity booster, cough and fever. We'll issue them a notice asking how they got permission to make the kit," said YS Rawat, licence officer, Uttarakhand ayurveda department. The Ayush ministry has said that advertising will have to stop till the time the claims of Patanjali Ayurved are verified. The company also faces charges under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act.