New Delhi: The Kerala model has been lauded across the globe for its effectiveness in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. The state has taken several steps to keep its case count low, and one of them is a focus on improving the immunity levels of people, using Ayurveda.
Over the past two months, Kerala has been promoting Ayurveda as a way of improving immunity in the general population. The state has included Ayurveda practitioners in its early detection system and even set up a State Ayurveda Covid-19 Response Cell (SACRC), to work on Ayurvedic formulations and drugs for the management of the coronavirus.
All of the measures are in line with the Ayurveda action plan that the government had released on 11 April, the fulcrum of which was recommending Ayurveda practices to all demographics of its population.
Some of the recommendations include 20 minutes of Yoga every day and dietary changes among others. The government has also formed 10 expert groups to come up with the recommendations, bust myths on Ayurveda and ensure only authentic information goes out and also work on a possible cure.
Health Minister K.K. Shailaja, however, told ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta at the digital Off The Cuff event last month, that Ayurveda will not be used as a treatment option.
“It (the programme) promotes the use of Ayurveda and modern medicine in conjunction. But diagnosis, medication and treatment will be through scientifically-backed modern medicine,” Shailaja categorically clarified.
“Ayurveda will be about lifestyle and supportive care,” she added.
Kerala has so far used a combination of rigorous contact tracing and smart testing to keep its Covid-19 numbers down. As of 14 June, the state has 1,342 cases with 19 deaths.
The Ayurveda immunity programme
The government’s Ayurveda action plan has the motto “Karuthalode Keralam, karuthekan Ayurvedam”. Translated, it means “Ayurveda can protect Kerala”.
As part of the plan, the state has implemented four kinds of Ayurvedic intervention — Swasthyam, Sukhayushyam, Punarjani and Niramaya.
Swasthyam intends to strengthen the individual protection against Covid-19 among various classes of the population below the age of 60 considering the intensity of risk to exposure whereas Sukhayushyam intends to protect individuals above the age of 60. Punarjani intends to ensure speedy recovery in convalescent Covid-19 cases.
On Nirmaya, the social media page, the state government has been uploading exercise modules and other informative material along with media reports of the activities undertaken so far. “There has been very encouraging viewership for a majority of the posts and on several occasions, it has surpassed the ordinary levels,” reads the government’s internal assessment report, accessed by ThePrint.
The state has also formed Ayur Raksha Clinics at all ayurvedic dispensaries under the department of Indian Systems of Medicine and the National AYUSH Mission. These clinics are now part of the Covid-19 monitoring system.
The government has further roped in Ayurveda practitioners and students to join ASHA workers and volunteers in detecting “suspicious symptoms of Covid-19 in an individual and report the same urgently to the government”.
The efforts are bearing fruit.
The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) along National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST), Kerala, has developed two natural value-added products for Covid-19 management.
“One of the products is a medicated drop for steam inhalation and the other an alcohol based sanitising gel. The CSIR-NIIST has expressed their consent to share the technology behind these value-added products developed from Ayurvedic herbs, with Oushadhi, the state-run Ayurvedic company,” reads the Ayurveda program implementation report of the state government.
Tele-consultation and exclusive Covid-19 care centres
The state government had also turned to Ayurveda institutions to monitor mental health during the lockdown.
Doctors at the VPSV Ayurveda College, Kottakkal, a government Ayurveda research Institute for mental health, and the Ayurveda Medical Association of India, run the tele-counselling initiative, Koode, which was started to reduce the mental stress of those who were in quarantine.
“An estimated population of over 6,000 persons have reportedly benefited from this programme conducted at Malappuram and Kozhikode. Similar such programmes are being conducted by the DISM at various other districts also,” reads the state’s implementation report.
The state government also initiated teleconsultation facilities at various Ayurveda colleges and the Indian System of Medicine (ISM) institutions across the state. “This initiative has been widely appreciated by the patients,” the document said.
The government also designated the public Ayurveda College Hospital at Thripunithura as a “corona care centre” from the early days of the outbreak. The government Ayurveda hospital in Payyanur and Taluk Ayurveda Hospital, Taliparamba, have also been transformed into such centres.
The Ayurveda dos and don’ts
From avoiding snacks to advising the popping of dry fruits, homemade chips and boiled bananas, the Kerala government has put out a list as part of its advisory on building immunity.
It has also formed a list of essential Ayurvedic drugs for prevention and convalescent care of Covid-19. But while circulating the list, it warned the public and officials that under no circumstance can these drugs or therapies should not be used as a cure for Covid-19.
“Eat food only when you are hungry” tops the list of general lifestyle instructions in the government’s document on setting the essential drug list (EDL). It has also advised people to consume rice gruel at least once a day, while asking them to “avoid or restrict” non-vegetarian food.
“In curry, pastries, snacks, tiffin, soups, wherever possible, use green gram (cherupayar) liberally. Minimize the use of black gram,” it adds.
The document also suggests cooking special beverages along with herbs. For instance, it suggests boiling of water with dry ginger, coriander seeds, basil leaves, muthanga, panikoorka kayila, ajwain seeds and turmeric.
“The quantities need not be that specific. Make it a tasty herbal drinking water called ‘chukku vellam’. All members of the family can quench their thirst with this,” it states.
It also promotes ‘chukku kappi’ — coffee with dry ginger — as a a simple digestive and medicinal beverage.
“Those who are familiar with diluted milk, or milk as such, try it with a piece of dry ginger (chukku) and a pinch of turmeric powder while boiling it,” the document states. “It is more helpful to improve respiratory health. Goat’s milk has an edge over cow’s milk in this regard.”
The Ayurveda move
The state government’s Ayurveda decision has been encouraged by the use of traditional medicine in China.
“Amid concerns of community transmission of Covid-19, the time is ripe now to enhance preparedness to curtail the spread of the disease by mobilizing all available human resources, infrastructure and medical expertise,” said another government document titled ‘Strategies for the implementation of Ayurveda in the prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation of Covid-19’.
“It is reported that in China, traditional Chinese medicine was integrated into the protocol for clinical management of Covid-19… It is most appropriate that Kerala should launch the first preventive programme in traditional medicine for Covid-19 in the world along with strategies for prevention and mitigation of the disease,” the document added.
Traditional Chinese medicine, according to the document, has been used in the past to fight epidemics such as SARS and H1N1.
“Several studies in this context have shown the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine in the form of herbal powders, decoctions, fumigations and others, which have yielded statistically significant as well as clinically plausible results in the prevention and mitigation of these epidemics.”
The document also added that such Chinese products were found to decrease the average length of hospital stay of Covid-19 patients by 22 per cent. “The recovery from elevated body temperature and disappearance of clinical symptoms were reduced respectively by 1.7 and 2.2 days… there was (also) a significant reduction in the rate of mild to severe cases by 27.4% and the clinical cure rate in laboratory diagnosed cases of Covid-19 was 90 per cent,” states the document.
With Vinod Mathew in Kochi