Coronavirus and Ayurveda: We need evidence, not emotion

Coronavirus and Ayurveda: We need evidence, not emotion

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A whopping number of people use AYUSH systems of healthcare routinely. Ayurveda claims a larger share of usage among these systems and in the current health crisis of COVID-19, where no system of medicine has established prevention or a cure yet, Ayurveda has been a natural recourse for many, ranging from Grandma’s home remedies, Google recommendations and occasionally advice from a qualified Ayurveda physician to OTC purchases.

In unprecedented times that the present pandemic has caused, many Ayurveda practitioners are seeing an opportunity in the midst of the crisis for both the right and wrong reasons. Many with an earnest desire for Ayurveda to be involved as a ‘recognised’ medical practice for prophylaxis, prevention as well as management, have been claiming Ayurveda as an effective remedy for COVID-19.

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There is a spurt in claims by many Ayurveda practitioners and pharma of having an effective remedy to treat/cure COVID-19. Sadly, these claims seem to be based on emotion rather than science. There is barely any universally acceptable scientific evidence to support most of these claims. Many resorted to the unconventional methods of circulating their views via social media and also approached the state and central governments for endorsements and approvals. A PIL was also filed demanding the apex court to allow the usage of Ayurveda for COVID-19, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Ayurveda literature is mostly conceptual and gives a lot of scope for extrapolation. In wrong hands, it can be easily misconstrued and facts distorted in the name of interpretation. While there is an exhaustive description of epidemic/pandemic diseases in classical texts of Ayurveda, they are mostly generic recommendations. It is necessary for the Ayurveda fraternity to acknowledge that COVID-19 is a new disease with facts still obscure.

Recently, the Gujarat government seemed excited about having tried Ayurveda and Homoeopathy as recommended by the AYUSH Ministry for improving immunity in 6887 asymptomatic contacts in 98 quarantine centres. They reported that none of them tested positive for COVID-19 post quarantine period. While this certainly is good news, we do need to ponder the probability of a 'contact' testing positive after the quarantine, the extent/degree of their contact, demographic details, etc. which are all vital for arriving at any conclusion.

While these are frustrating moments for the Ayurveda fraternity, it is also confusing the general public who are unable to get a single authentic remedial source. For now, the AYUSH Ministry has categorically said that there is no available remedy for COVID-19 and only published guidelines for improving immunity that might help in preventing an infection. The Ministry is also investing in immediate research for establishing scientific validity of Ayurveda medicines as retrovirals, immune boosters etc. which is a welcome move. It will be prudent on the part of Ayurveda physicians and pharma to work with standard scientific guidelines to support the claims.

Few Ayurveda pharmaceutical companies that have been working on simulation studies and it is interesting to know that a few plant molecules have shown the ability to halt the alarming multiplication of the SARS CoV-2 virus in an Artificial Intelligence (AI) modelling. At the same time, one should not limit the strength of Ayurveda to just a few herbal remedies. Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that involves herbs, diet, lifestyle and all those measures that not only get the body rid of the infection but also restore the physiology of the body back in order.

There is abundant wisdom in this ancient system of medicine and it is has 'contemporary' uses as well.  There is constantly new information emerging in the field of science and medicine. Accepting and understanding new information in the perspective of Ayurveda and building on them will enrich science. Otherwise, it will become redundant and irrelevant sooner rather than later.

(The writer is a consultant Ayurveda family physician and a professor)