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COVID: Indian doctors denounce unapproved treatments

Tanika Godbole New Delhi
June 3, 2021

Doctors have spoken out against an alarming trend of using unapproved medications to treat coronavirus infections. The comments come after a yoga guru promoted an unapproved treatment and denounced modern medicine.

Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev with PM Narednra Modi
Indian guru Baba Ramdev claimed he didn't need a COVID vaccine because he was protected by yoga and ancient medicineImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Hussain

Indian medical associations have spoken out against a trend of rejecting modern medicine and using unapproved alternative medications to treat patients infected with COVID-19.

Last month, yoga guru Ram Kisan Yadav, also known as Baba Ramdev, drew intense criticism when he called allopathy, or evidence-based medicine, a "stupid science," and claimed that hundreds of thousands had died by taking modern medicines.

He has used examples of drugs such as remdesivir and fabiflu to support his argument against modern medicine.

In response, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) wrote a stern letter to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

"All this is done by Swami Ramdevji to take advantage of the situation and create a false sense of fear and frustrations ... so that he can sell his illegal and unapproved medicines, and make money at the cost of public at large," the letter said.

Ramdev retracted his comments later, saying that he held no ill will against the medical community.

He later claimed that he did not need a COVID-19 vaccine because he was protected by yoga and Ayurveda, an ancient alternative medicine system.

"Ramdev has been spreading rumors among the public and disrespecting members of the medical community," Manish, the president of the Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA), told DW.

"Many have lost their lives. We are putting our family and loved ones at risk, while continuing to do our duty. He should not be allowed to make such statements. The government should take strict action against him," he said.

In May, as India went through an ongoing oxygen shortage, Ramdev downplayed the crisis, urging people to "use their lungs" to breathe the oxygen that "God has given." This led Navjot Singh Dahiya, the vice president of the IMA, to lodge a police complaint against him.

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Why do Ramdev's comments matter?

Baba Ramdev rose to prominence as a yoga guru, and currently has a massive following. He organizes large yoga retreats, and broadcasts his sessions on his own television channel. He is also the co-founder of Patanjali Ayurved, a multinational company which makes packaged consumer products, ranging from food to soaps.

He has close ties with several members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Ramdev has promoted the use of Patanjali's Coronil, a herbal mixture that he claims can be used to treat COVID-19, and which has not been approved by any medical body or authority. Health Minister Vardhan, who is himself an allopathic doctor, was also present for the launch of the remedy.

Alternative medicines such as Ayurveda and homeopathy are common in India, and doctor associations have not directly voiced opposition to such treatments. The government even has an agency, the Ministry of Ayush, devoted to research and development of alternative medicines.

Medical professionals say Ramdev's concoction, however, cannot be categorized as medicine under any schools of alternative medicine.

He had also falsely claimed that Coronil was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Many have faith in the yoga guru's brand of medicine, but doctors say his claims are not supported by facts, and could turn out to be dangerous, especially during a pandemic.

Health care workers stage 'Black Day' protest

Health care workers across India staged a protest against the yoga guru's comments. The "Black Day" protest, which was called for by FORDA, was held on June 1. 

"Around 10,000 of us from across the country participated in the protest, without letting it affect patient care. We wore black ribbons and armbands, and some changed their social media profile pictures to show only black," Manish said.

Photos on social media showed doctors holding posters calling for the arrest of "Quack Ramdev," as the hashtag #ArrestRamdev trended on Twitter.

The IMA also said Ramdev's comments were a "criminal act" and demanded his arrest under India's Disaster Management Act.

"Ramdev thought it fit to launch his tirade against the national COVID-19 treatment protocol and national COVID-19 vaccination programme looking for an opportunity to market his commercial products. What he failed to realise is that in doing so he has irreparably damaged the efforts of the Government of India in containing the epidemic," the IMA said.

According to official figures, the virus has left at least 330,000 people dead in India, including more than 1,200 doctors.

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