With the country’s COVID graph surging past the 4.5 lakh mark and nearly 15,000 people succumbing to the disease, any claim of a “100 per cent cure” is bound to generate hope. But in such difficult times, it’s also important to regulate and guard against the propagation of a false sense of security. The Ministry of AYUSH has, therefore, done well to ask Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved to stop advertising that it has found a cure for the contagion, until it examines the matter.
As a report in this paper has brought to light, the company did not follow due processes before launching the “Corona Kit”, which it advertised as a panacea for COVID-19. The Uttarakhand government has said its licensing authority did not grant approval to the Haridwar-based Divya Pharmacy, Patanjali’s medicine unit, to manufacture the “Corona Kit”. And, the Rajasthan government has disclaimed any knowledge of clinical trials of the drug at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Research in Jaipur. The litany of Patanjali’s unethical practices doesn’t end here. When mildly symptomatic patients developed fever during the trials, they were administered allopathic medicines.
The advertising of Ayurvedic drugs is governed by a law that dates back to 1954 — the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act. The Act does talk about “false claims” and “directly or indirectly giving a false impression regarding the true character of the drug”. But serious diseases such as AIDS or encephalitis, which have emerged in the past 40 years, are not listed under the law. In February, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft of an amendment to the 1954 Act to correct such shortcomings. But then the country was overtaken by COVID and the Centre has used the 1954 Act to scrutinise Patanjali’s tall claims — the AYUSH ministry’s notice to Baba Ramdev’s outfit was served under this law. Perhaps the government has to find ways to include COVID-19 under its purview. Its use of the ordinance route to amend the 123-year old Epidemic Diseases Act, to curb violence against doctors, could be instructive for the purpose.
This is not to undermine the role of Ayurvedic remedies for people’s health and well-being, especially during the pandemic. Some herbs are known to be immunity boosters. In fact, Patanjali, reportedly, sought regulatory approval for individual medicines, that it later included in the “Corona Kit”, as “immunity boosters” and as remedies for “cough and breathlessness”. In claiming that these medicines cure COVID, Ramdev’s company is guilty of flouting medical — and business — ethics, while also discrediting Ayurveda.
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