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Coronavirus | Highly irresponsible on the part of AYUSH Ministry to prescribe Unani medicines

Passengers from China wearing masks to prevent a new coronavirus get fever check upon their arrival at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea.

Passengers from China wearing masks to prevent a new coronavirus get fever check upon their arrival at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

None of the medicines mentioned has ever undergone any form of clinical validation.

At a time when the number of novel coronavirus cases has crossed 7,700 — with deaths at 170 in China alone — and with the virus having spread to 20 countries/regions, the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) has once again resorted to dishing out a dangerous prescription to people who might be infected with the virus.

In a press release circulated on Wednesday, the Ministry recommended certain Unani medicines for “symptomatic management of novel coronavirus” and certain Ayurveda and homeopathy medicines to help prevent coronavirus infection.

Nearly a month after China intimated the World Health Organization about the novel virus, no drugs to specifically target the virus are currently available and no candidate drugs are at any stage of clinical trial.

In the absence of specific drugs to treat the novel coronavirus, patients are only provided with symptomatic treatment, including making sure that patients get enough oxygen so that they survive long enough for the immune system to fight the disease on its own.

Not only is the recommendation by the Ministry highly irresponsible and dangerous but it also runs counter to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s current practice of quickly isolating even suspected cases to prevent the spread of the virus and providing them with symptomatic treatment if found infected.

None of the medicines mentioned in the release has ever undergone any form of clinical validation. They have not been tested on people infected with the novel virus to study their ability to provide any kind of relief or prevent infection, either. Yet, the AYUSH Ministry has no hesitation in recommending the untested medicines to treat the virus, about which not much is known so far.

Symptoms not listed

Even as the Ministry issued a prescription to symptomatically manage infected people with Unani medicines, it has not cared to list out the symptoms that people infected with the novel virus exhibit or mention which medicines should be taken to treat which symptom.

People infected with the novel virus exhibit a wide range of symptoms. While most people exhibit milder symptoms akin to common cold such as fever and cough, about one in five manifest severe illness, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. Much like in the case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome caused by another coronavirus, some patients have been said to have had gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea.

By listing out the Unani medicines and asking people to use them for symptomatic management of the infection, the AYUSH Ministry is in fact encouraging people to self-medicate, which by itself is alarming. The press release is a mishmash of information put together in haste. While detailing Ayurveda medicines, it clearly states that the “advocacy is for information only and shall be adopted in consultation with registered Ayurveda practitioners only”, but no such cautionary note is found for Unani and homeopathy medicines.

With no evidence that the medicines would indeed provide even symptomatic relief, self-medication outside the healthcare system would put close contacts at grave risk of getting infected. After all, human-to-human transmission from infected cases to close contacts has been documented in China and other countries and even fourth-generation transmission has been recorded in Wuhan city, the epicentre of the disease outbreak in China.

Is the AYUSH Ministry aware of the kind of precautions that need to be taken while attending to people with the infection? Is it even aware that 16 healthcare workers who had been wearing all the mandatory protective gear while treating the infected cases fell ill themselves?

So when a passenger exhibiting symptoms suggestive of infection with the novel coronavirus is found at one of the 20 airports where thermal screening has been undertaken, will she be immediately quarantined and admitted to a hospital for further testing/treatment or will she be allowed to exercise her freedom to be treated at home with Unani medicines?

This should be reminder that the Health Ministry and AYUSH Ministry cannot afford to work at cross purposes.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 11:11:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/coronavirus-highly-irresponsible-on-the-part-of-ayush-ministry-to-prescribe-unani-medicines/article30692601.ece

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