New Delhi: It is incorrect to call Ayurveda or homoeopathy an “alternative medicine” in the context of Covid-19, said a top government official, who heads the committee on research and development of AYUSH-based medicines.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Dr Bhushan Patwardhan, chairman of interdisciplinary AYUSH Research and Development Task Force on Covid-19, said: “Currently, we are in the evidence-based precision medicine era. As of now, there is no proven treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection or Covid-19 in any medical system.”
The task force that Patwardhan heads was constituted by the Ministry of AYUSH.
“Current management of Covid-19 is largely based on experience and empirical evidence. Therefore, what is conventional and what is alternative is difficult to decide,” he said, adding that “when several allopathic drugs are being repurposed based on empirical evidence, there is no reason as to why safe AYUSH interventions are ignored”.
Patwardhan, who is also the vice-chairman of the University Grants Commission, further explained that “immune-inflammation is known to be a key driver in Covid-19 progression”.
Patwardhan is a biomedical scientist who is also the chairman (additional charge) of the Indian Council of Social Science Research and has worked on several policy-making committees, task forces of the National Knowledge Commission, Planning Commission, NITI Ayog and the Ministry of AYUSH. AYUSH is the acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy.
Recent studies, he emphasised, “have identified genetic factors that may influence susceptibility to Covid-19″.
“This may explain why SARS-CoV-2 virus may cause serious harm to certain individuals while others largely remain mild or asymptomatic,” he said.
“Over this background, research on Ayurvedic rasayana (chemicals), ahara (food), Yoga, meditation as well as the role of Ayurvedic dosha prakriti (nature of the disease) types in pathophysiology and therapeutics of Covid-19 is very exciting.”
Patwardhan advised that “integrating protocols involving best from modern and traditional systems of medicine can offer substantial benefits to improve quality of medical care and public health”.
“In a sum, adhering to scientific standards of quality and safety, integrating simple measures from Ayurveda and yoga in the standard of care for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 is reasonable, ethical and fair in the interest of larger public good,” he added.
Need to break existing silos of medical systems
Modern medicine, Patwardhan said, has greatly contributed to manage various symptoms such as fever, pain, infections and most importantly the critical care. However, “there are no proven measures for prevention of Covid-19”.
“Ayurveda can contribute to boost immunity and help in systemic and local prophylaxis. Yoga and meditation can improve respiratory function and mental health,” he said, adding that “simple home remedies such as hot medicinal kadha, steam inhalation, and spices such as turmeric, clove, cinnamon, liquorice can also help in slowing the disease progression”.
“There is a need to break existing silos of medical systems and use the best available options in the interest of patients and people. The global consensus is emerging in favour of integrative approach and complementary medicine,” said Patwardhan, who has been awarded by the World Health Organization for a study on the role of traditional medicine in public health.
R&D going on for Covid-19
The primary objective of Patwardhan’s task force is to demonstrate the value and scientific basis of AYUSH systems in the management of Covid-19.
“We wish to strengthen interdisciplinary collaborative research culture among Indian scientists. We wish to establish a network of medical institutions where the strengths of modern medicine and AYUSH systems can be scientifically integrated for the benefit of people,” he said.
“We hope that rigorous research on AYUSH systems can help India to innovate and aspire global leadership in healthcare.”
According to Patwardhan, the Ministry of AYUSH in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has planned systematic clinical trials to study Ayurvedic medicines for prevention as well as adjunct treatment of Covid-19.
“Ashwagandha is known to stimulate antibody formation and also T cell response. A randomised controlled clinical trial on high-risk individuals such as healthcare providers to compare efficacy of Ashwagandha with hydroxychloroquine has been planned,” he said.
“The task force has selected four Ayurvedic (herbs) — ashwagandha, yashtimadhu or liquorice, guduchi also known as giloy, pippali also known as long pepper (to study their efficacy in preventing Covid).”
Patwardhan said a large number of top medical scientists, physicians, pulmonologists, pharmacologists “are working hand in hand with Ayurvedic vaidyas”.
“A large number of studies, including prospective and retrospective population-based, epidemiological, observational studies and randomised controlled clinical trials are under way.”
Various preclinical studies, he said, have been planned in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology both in vitro and in vivo using animals, tissues and cell systems.
“The task force has also facilitated creation of various guidelines for medical practitioners and common people.”
How govt is giving strength to AYUSH system
The clinical protocols for the studies to find out the efficacy of Ayurvedic herbs as a prevention for Covid have been developed under the leadership of chief clinical coordinator Dr Arvind Chopra, who is a well-known physician-scientist with considerable experience in rheumatology and immunology, Patwardhan said.
“These protocols have been reviewed by experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research and other leading medical research institutions. All the clinical studies are closely monitored by a high-level committee chaired by renowned medical scientist Dr Vishwa Mohan Katoch, former director general of ICMR,” he added.
The Data Safety Monitoring Board, which monitors clinical studies, is chaired by Dr Nandini Kumar, former senior scientist from ICMR who is known for her contributions in bioethics, according to Patwardhan.
A working group under the chairmanship of Dr M.D. Gupte, former director of ICMR and the National Institute of Epidemiology, has given valuable advice to refine study designs being used for various studies, he said.
“In short, the task force has adopted globally accepted scientific standards. It is hoped that the data from these studies will be publishable in reputed scientific journals,” Patwardhan said.
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