New Delhi: There is a dearth of vaccines in India — only the latest essential commodity, along with oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds among others, to be in short supply in a country ravaged by a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But for over two months now, the Narendra Modi government has been funding a study that aims to find an “effective treatment” for Covid-19 — one that may barely make the scientific cut.
Since February this year, researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, have been conducting a clinical trial to see if chanting the Gayatri Mantra and doing pranayam can help hospitalised Covid-19 patients.
The Gayatri Mantra is a religious hymn often chanted by people during meditation and Hindu religious ceremonies, while pranayam is a breath control exercise in Yoga.
The study is being funded by the Department of Science and Technology. Its brief, shared on Clinical Trials Registry, claims that pranayam and Gayatri Mantra chanting have “been used in other diseases and have shown promising effects”, which it adds “becomes vital” in a scenario when “there is no effective treatment or vaccine for this virus as yet”.
Participants of the trial, however, are undergoing regular treatment simultaneously, apart from performing pranayam and chanting the Gayatri Mantra.
India’s top pulmonologist and AIIMS New Delhi Director Dr Randeep Guleria, meanwhile, said there is evidence that breathing exercises work in non-infectious diseases, but added that he he was not sure if it will work for Covid-19 patients too.
Speaking to ThePrint about the trial, principal investigator Ruchi Dua said, “We have already finished enrolment of patients and are now at the final stages of our report. We are studying the effects that chanting Gayatri Mantra and performing pranayam have on moderate Covid patients. We will study various markers in the patients.”
She added that the results of the clinical trial should be out by the end of this month or early next month.
The trial has 20 Covid patients divided into two groups. One group of patients is being given regular treatment while the other will chant the Gayatri Mantra and perform pranayam along with regular treatment.
A certified Yoga instructor is providing the interventions while qualified doctors are continuing regular treatment. The Gayatri Mantra chanting and pranayam instructions are being issued through video-conferencing and Google Meet.
According to the researchers, patients are spending an hour each, in the morning and evening, to chant the Gayatri Mantra and perform pranayam.
At the end of the trial, the groups will be compared on whether those who were chanting show any remarkable improvement in their inflammation or cell-injury levels.
Improvement in chest X-rays, D-dimer levels and measuring the level of fatigue will also be the secondary outcomes that the trial will measure.
The trial is only looking at moderately ill hospitalised patients and not those severely ill.
‘Breathing exercises may help’
Experts in the field of pulmonology and cardiology say that it will be worthwhile to see if the breathing exercises help Covid patients. They, however, refrained from saying anything about the use of Gayatri Mantra.
“Breathing exercises may help in improving the lung capacity but they alone cannot be a treatment. It makes sense to look if it works along with other treatments. It’s worthwhile to do the study in a randomised double-blind way,” said top Indian pulmonologist and AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria.
He added that breathing exercises have been seen to work in non-infectious diseases but he is not sure whether it will work for Covid patients.
“I have done a randomised Yoga trial in the past on patients with chronic bronchitis and compared that with standard pulmonology rehabilitation. It was a 12-week study and it showed Yoga was as effective as pulmonary rehabilitation. Not only did the patients quality of life improved but the bio-markers in the blood also came down. There is data that these things help with non-infective diseases. But I’m not sure whether it will work for Covid,” Guleria added.
Dr Sameer Gupta, a cardiologist from Delhi, agreed that exploring the role of breathing exercises in Covid patients is interesting. He added that whether patients chant Gayatri Mantra or something else doesn’t matter.
“What’s interesting in the study is how the breathing exercises will bring about changes in Covid patients. Whether they chant Gayatri Mantra or an Om doesn’t matter…I want to see if it shows any significant changes in the oxygen levels,” said Gupta, interventional cardiologist at Metro Hospital.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)