COVID-19 and Ayurveda’s Image Problem

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In the third week of June, Indian media was abuzz with a controversial press announcement. Acharya Balkrishna, CEO of Patanjali, had claimed that the company has found a cure for COVID-19. He went on to explain how ‘Coronil’ the medicine they had developed was able to cure COVID-19 patients within a span of 5-14 days. The recovery rate he claimed was 100%. 

The ensuing media backlash saw AYUSH Ministry issuing a clarification that it was not aware of the scientific study that was done related to Coronil. Exactly a week after that, Acharya Balakrishna took a visible u-turn while clarifying that he had never claimed that Coronil could cure COVID-19. 

A month later in July, Minister of State Arjun Ram Meghwal was seen endorsing Bhabhi Ji Papad, saying it had ingredients to boost a person’s immunity and help defeat the novel coronavirus. The incident is one of many that have caused huge media storms and have also cemented Ayurveda’s image as an unscientific and unproven branch of medicine.

Why Ayurveda = Unproven

An endless list of dubious claims made by so-called Ayurvedic companies or practitioners for their 15 minutes of fame has been driving Ayurveda’s perennial image problem. Ayurveda is more of a preventive than curative form of medicine. Its treatment methods are a result of iterative learning that spans many millennia. The rise of allopathy as an effective and science-based branch of medicine has pushed Ayurveda and other traditional forms of medicine to the sidelines. So much so, that these methods are now referred to as ‘alternative medicines.’

Amidst all the negative media coverage and misinformation, Ayurveda has constantly been projected as a pseudo science. An entire branch of medical science and its in-depth knowledge of the human body and its workings has been overlooked without much contemplation or debate. This is in a country where companies like Dabur (established in 1884) have proven their effectiveness as producers of popular Ayurvedic products for skincare, health concerns, and personal care. 

An unsung hero from the South

While media outlets across the country were happily bashing Ayurveda, a reputed Ayurvedic company in Kerala announced that the interim clinical trial results for ZingiVir-H tablets had seen a success. ZingiVir-H is being developed by Pankajakasthuri Herbals as a herbo-mineral drug with seven Ayurvedic ingredients to treat critical health conditions like COVID-19. 

Instead of creating an unwanted controversy in the media, the company made a very measured announcement that was backed by credible research data. The interim results were published by the company after a group of 22 COVID positive patients that were given Zingivir-H, got their RT-PCR tests negative and were discharged in just 4 days. 

ZingiVir-H Tablets Developed by Pankajakasthuri Herbals
ZingiVir-H Tablets Developed by Pankajakasthuri Herbals

The company first obtained the Drugs License of the Government of Kerala and the tablets underwent cytotoxicity tests on human cells at the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology and CSIR-NIIST at Thiruvananthapuram. After animal studies proved the drug harmless, the clinical trial registration was obtained from the Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI). 

Thereafter, the drug was placed in Randomized Single Blind Placebo Controlled Multi-Center Clinical Trial as per WHO’s ICH-GCP standards at various Medical Colleges. Clinical trials are continuing among 112 patients as an adjunct therapy and among 135 additional patients as a standalone treatment in a double-blind study.

Going beyond the dismissiveness 

Ayurvedic drugs may not be the only solution against COVID-19, but there is increasing  evidence that Ayurveda does have a few aces up its sleeve. Clinical trials of two Ayurvedic drugs to treat Covid-19 have shown promising results in Karnataka also. Ayurvedic medicines and therapies have been a part of the Indian way of life for thousands of years. It would be easy to dismiss Ayurvedic practices as outdated and without any scientific merit. It would be harder however to overlook the various ways in which Ayurveda is growing, evolving and excelling as a branch of Indian medicine. It does have its roots in traditional methods and ingredients, but its methodology is very much in line with modern medicine and its scientific standards.

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