New Delhi: Raw data from clinical trials conducted on the efficacy of alternative medicines against the Covid-19 infection shows “promising outcomes”, according to Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, a top government official in the Ministry of AYUSH.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Kotecha, Secretary, AYUSH, defended alternative medicines that have often been criticised for allegedly propounding pseudoscience.
The AYUSH ministry specifically promotes the use of alternative medicines like Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and homeopathy in India.
“The controversies and criticism has always been a part in every aspect of science, be it the science of ancient medicines,” he said.
Kotecha claimed that a majority of people under quarantine, who used AYUSH-based therapies as preventive measures, did not report any severe symptoms of Covid-19.
The ministry is also “working on many fronts in different designs of research studies to generate some tangible evidence in AYUSH against Covid-19. We would certainly work on translating them in public health in the fight against Covid in the near future,” he said
“The ministry plans to publish the results after analysing the data,” he added.
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According to Kotecha, the raw data is from the trial that is still open for enrolment of people for the purpose of quarantine.
Lately, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the use of these alternative medicines, especially Ayurveda, to boost immunity, and this has led to significant elevation in the ministry’s position.
PM Modi also threw his weight behind a ministry advisory urging the use of home remedies to strengthen immunity amid the pandemic.
Generating evidence to support efficacy of AYUSH drugs
One of the primary criticisms levelled against the AYUSH ministry is the lack of scientific evidence backing any of the claims made about these medicines.
According to Kotecha, this is because the AYUSH system has “a complex approach with its highly individualised style of deciding the treatment protocol”.
“It cannot be generalised and depends on body to body.”
He added, “Understanding and appreciating this system in simple randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or other study designs has always been a challenging task.”
RCTs are one of the easiest and most powerful tools in clinical research to test the efficacy of medicines on patients.
To generate “tangible evidence” about the effectiveness of these remedies, the ministry initiated a series of collaborative clinical trials as a joint venture with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Science and Technology against the Covid-19 crisis.
Furthermore, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex health research body, the ministry is also studying four Ayurvedic herbs — ashwagandha, guduchi, pippali, yashtimadhu — for preventive properties against the infection.
“The studies on these four candidates have been planned as multi-centre studies in identified institutes and hospitals across India with a sample size of about 140 in each study, and there are 20 such sites across the country,” said Kotecha.
A poly-herbal, anti-malarial formulation termed AYUSH 64, is also being tested by the ministry.
Moreover, according to Kotecha, an interdisciplinary AYUSH research and development task force has been set-up with a group of experts to formulate and develop strategies against the pandemic.
“The ministry, through its research councils and national institutes, has also initiated various prophylactic, clinical and population-based survey studies to address the challenge of Covid-19 at more than 50 locations across 25 states of the country,” he said, adding that these studies will cover a sample size of approximately 5 lakh.
A mobile application-based survey to assess the effectiveness, acceptance and usage of AYUSH advisories and measures against Covid-19 has also been launched, with a sample size of 50 lakh people across India.
Kotecha noted that “a dataset of around 20 lakh samples has been achieved”.
The Ministry of AYUSH had also released an advisory on 18 March suggesting measures to boost immunity and help manage the symptoms of the virus.
“We also suggested immunity boosting with daily use of spices, herbs and lifestyle changes. The advisories do have support of science, in the form of several publications, and also in the shastras, which are the ancient classical texts,” he said.
Role of AYUSH in Covid war
Kotecha stressed that the war against Covid-19 can be won easily by “boosting immunity”.
Several states, such as Kerala, have been using Ayurveda and other alternative medicines to boost immunity, and that has managed to keep the death rate very low, he said.
“Through our dedicated web portal, we have asked for suggestions from all the stakeholders including Kerala for research and clinical management of Covid-19,” noted Kotecha.
“Many states have released their AYUSH advocacies such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Haryana to name a few,” he added.
Claiming that AYUSH medicines are the best option for the body’s immune system, Kotecha said, “I would like to further stress on the point that making the body strong with good immunity is an essential part in fighting against Covid-19 and AYUSH is certainly the best answer to this.”
He added, “While abiding with hand washing measures and maintaining social distance, eating freshly cooked homemade food, practicing Yoga daily, and following simple home remedies as advised by us in the advisory will take care of an individual’s immunity.”
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