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Can India explore its alternative medicines to slow down Coronavirus?

Mumbai: Well, there is no prescribed treatment to Coronavirus (at least the last time I checked). But the only option left is prevention, prevention and prevention (and if an ailment is diagnosed let your immune system do the fight). That was the whole point of washing hands with soap, wearing masks, social distancing, etc. While modern medicine is working hard for a prescribed treatment or a vaccine, the big question is whether our traditional medicines like Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Naturopathy really help.

 

Prevention is better than cure

Speaking to The Free Press Journal, Ayurveda Medical Association of India, President, Dr Raju Thomas, said, “There is no vaccine for coronavirus not just in traditional medicines but also in modern medicines. At present, everyone is just talking about prevention. If you are talking about prevention, we could suggest the inclusion of some alternative medicines.” Thomas reiterated that he is not talking about vaccines but prevention or immunity-boosting medicines. But in passing, Thomas mentioned there are medicines and ingredients in Ayurveda that could be helpful.

Dr Rohit Sane, MD and CEO at Madhavbaug said, “Social distancing is a strong message. Along with it, there is a need to talk about boosting immunity as well.” He added social distancing is perceived by many as a means to relax or sleep at home. “If people are not sleeping, they are eating. Rather this time should be used to exercise and stay healthy.” He suggested that amla (gooseberry) is a good ingredient to boost immunity along with the right exercise. He went on to explain, “It is important to reduce consumption of glucose and increase antioxidants levels as glucose allows the virus to grow.” Sane revealed that his institution, Madhavbaug, which has 240 clinics and has around 3 lakh patients, is sharing awareness videos and publishing information about COVID-19. “More information needs to be there for people to not panic.”

 

Alternative medicines

If you take a cue from China, many say that Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) worked for the Chinese in their fight against COVID-19. They say that TCM was effective for over 90 per cent of the coronavirus patients treated. In a press conference in China, Yu Yanhong, Party chief of the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine had claimed that a total of 74,187 COVID-19 patients, or 91.5 percent of the total confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland, have received TCM treatment. Now, China is mulling over combining traditional Chinese medicine with western medicine for other illnesses as well. It is claimed that TCM drugs helped in slowing the progression of the disease, improving the cure rate and reducing mortality and boosting the recovery of Covid 19 patients (according to Xinhua).

One should not forget that while the herbs used in China might differ from those used in India, some ingredients of the herbs are however similar to those used in Indian traditional medicines.

Thomas, whose association is very active in Kerala, said that his association has been trying to convince Kerala government to support them in encouraging people to use some Ayurvedic medicines as preventive medication.

 

Extending helping hand

And in case the situation in India gets worse and there is a rise in Coronavirus cases, there is a chance that non-allopathic doctors might have to extend their helping hand. Already in the interiors of Palakkad, Kerala, the officials have taken help of Ayurvedic doctors to check the temperature and for the initial monitoring. “There is no doubt about it. Ayurvedic doctors will come forward if there is a need,” added Thomas. Echoing the same thought, Dr Ajit Kailasrao Funde, President, Maharashtra Council of Homeopathy said, “Our doctors will come forward in times of crisis, but they would need some basic training.” Funde felt that during a crisis, having training before putting them in the frontline is always needed.

In China, the authorities took the help of 4,900 Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) medics to help in the Hubei region, one of the regions badly hit by Coronavirus.

 

If Ayush had taken off…

India has one government doctor for 10,000 people and one doctor for a population of 1,457. According to the World Health Organisation, there should ideally be one doctor per 1,000 people. At present, there are about 9.26 allopathic doctors (modern medicine) available. But experts feel India needs an additional 5 lakh or more. Meanwhile, India is home to around 7.8 lakh Ayurvedic, Unani and Homeopathic doctors; and a poor healthcare system.

“If there is a large-scale spread of Coronavirus, it will be difficult to tackle it as India is neither equipped in terms of equipment nor in terms of the number of doctors. If the whole Ayush plan had taken off faster, maybe there would have been less pressure in our existing (ailing) healthcare infrastructure and doctors,” said Sane.

In the 2019 budget, the up-gradation of existing state government AYUSH dispensaries and sub-health centres to AYUSH health and wellness centres (HWCs) was proposed. But the programme is expected to reach its peak in 2023.

 

Failure in documentation

The biggest challenge for India’s traditional medicines have been lack of data and it continues to hurt them at large, while China has been using its learning to help not just its population but other countries in Africa too. This is mainly because they have documented their diagnosis and the medicines that worked.

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