As it makes its way through crowds of unsuspecting people, the COVID-19 disease leaves behind a trail of physical and mental misery, showing no bias in whom it attacks.
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But the epidemic has come with in-built compensation. In the lockdown that followed, the world rediscovered nature – in the form of clear skies, clean rivers, quiet surroundings, breathable air…and traditional medicine.
Traditional medicine in use across states
The Kerala model, recognised for its success, has asserted that Ayurveda preparations are part of the treatment of Covid-19 patients. “Integrated treatment protocol” they call it. That life-long intake of Ayurvedic concoctions has strengthened immunity among the masses is the added argument.
A Press Trust of India report on April 28th said that the Gujarat government would administer Ayurvedic medicines like Samshamni Vati, Dasmool Kvath, Trikatu Churna, besides tulsi, neem, turmeric to 75 asymptomatic COVID-19 patients in Ahmedabad to monitor the “time duration of their recovery”. This was part of the treatment guidelines from the central Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy).
Gujarat Principal Secretary (Health), Jayanthi Ravi was quoted as saying, “As many as 7,778 people under quarantine were given the Ayurvedic medicine, and only 21 out of them tested positive for coronavirus.”
In an update on March 23rd, the Principal Secretary shared that over 6,000 persons in quarantine centres were given Ayurvedic and Homeopathic pills and drinks (Ukala), and except 11, all had tested negative. The 11 found positive had taken Ayurvedic preventive treatment for just three days instead of seven.
Tamil Nadu’s Kabasura kudineer
Tamil Nadu, too, is waking up to the possibility of using its native Siddha stream of medicine to build immunity in the midst of the pandemic. During the earlier swine-flu spread, the government distributed Nilavembu Kashayam to the masses through nodal points such as public libraries – as a preventive measure and immunity booster.
Since COVID-19 broke out, similar purported properties of the Kabasura concoction has helped make it a sought-after immunity booster. Hot cups of Kabasura kudineer were handed to passers-by in busy streets, packets of the dry ingredients became “moving” goods in naatu marundhu stores.
By the second week of April, with some of its front-line workers testing positive, Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), which opened a herbal canteen in 2012 and put herbal medicines on its counter in 2013, called Siddha and Ayurvedic practitioners for a meeting. The practitioners had earlier suggested that GCC try herbal drinks to boost staff immunity.
For GCC it was a matter of overcoming the natural hesitation of trying something different; after all, government agencies like Tampcol stock Siddha/Ayurveda herbal doses. Within a week, some 20,000 workers would get Kabasura/Nilavembu kudineer drinks/packets.
Enhancing daily diet
As testing expanded and ‘positive’ stats ballooned, patients were being quarantined in city colleges. In the first week of May, Dr Veera Babu, the face of the fight through Siddha stream, was asked by Dr. Senthil Raj of the government’s special team to distribute herbal concoctions to asymptomatic patients quarantined in Vaishnava College. “We integrated our preparations with the daily patient diet in the form of soups, kashayams, teas and rasams.”
By May 4th, Chennai Arumbakkam Private College had been converted into a COVID Care Center (CCC). Some 80+ patients had been transferred from the Government Stanley Medical College Hospital to this college. Here again, Dr Veera Babu’s team began integrating herbal drinks into the patient diet.
Patient’s daily intake
8 am – Kabasura kudineer, Pongal, Sambar and Egg
11 am– Thoothuvalai (Solanum Trilobatu) soup
1 pm – Tomato rice and Poriyal
3 pm – Herbal Tea extracted from ginger/ lemon/ sitharathai/ athimathuram/ thippili/ pepper and Karuppatti jaggery and ‘Navadhanya Sundal’
8 pm – Pudhina Chapathi and Kuruma.
“This menu will enhance resistance against illnesses. As Siddha medicines are integrated with allopathic treatment, the coronavirus infected patients will recover rather quickly,” said Dr Veera Babu.
People embrace immunity boosters
When Ambur town in Tirupattur district turned into another high-case-load area, the district’s AYUSH clinic directed the local administration to distribute Nilavembu kudineer and Kabasura kudineer.
Vendors and residents could be seen sipping the concoction from a kiosk set up on Nethaji Road near Ambur railway station. An official took pains to stress that the drink was in no way a cure for COVID-19 and was being given only to boost immunity.
Three weeks ago, areas in Ward-127 of Koyambedu, which were reporting 10-12 cases daily, were chosen for a pilot project. Dr Veera Babu said of their efforts there, “We distributed a herbal drink to all the residents as a preventive measure. It started on a Saturday, following which cases were down to 4-5 mid-week and by Saturday, the same areas reported zero cases. Cases came back with more testing, but it has not crossed one-a-day since.”
Siddha medicine won official endorsement when the government nodal team, headed by Dr J Radhakrishnan, IAS, acknowledged Koyembedu’s “success” in public. It gained additional authenticity when Ravirajan (43), a correspondent with a TV channel published his experience of overcoming Covid-19 with only Siddha preparations.
The distribution has now moved to Royapuram, a high-density hotspot. On 27 May, Wards 52, 54, 56, 57, 58 and 59 saw workers handing over hot cups of a special herbal drink from autos and mini-trucks. “We will monitor the numbers through the week and then we can believe in its efficacy,” said Dr. Veera Babu.
“My team will go door-to-door with the dose, and I’ll handle the symptomatic ones. Siddha medicine is now field-work, and a complementary part of hospital treatment.”
Homeopathy in the mix
The Ministry of AYUSH along with Central Council of Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) had announced Arsenicum album 30 as a prophylaxis for COVID 19 on January 29 2020, pointed out Dr V Veerapathiran, Homeopathy Practitioner, Chennai. The advisory ran into criticism and was put on the back-burner by most states.
On March 6th, the advisory returned – with 33 research studies as evidence. “These interventions from different AYUSH systems of medicines are supported with evidence for promotion of immunity and help in improving respiratory symptoms in similar diseases,” wrote Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH.
Recommending Arsenicum album 30, he wrote, “The preventive aspect of homoeopathy is well-known, and historically, homoeopathy has reportedly been used for prevention during epidemics of Cholera, Spanish Influenza, Yellow Fever, Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, Typhoid, etc.”
Dr. Purvez Grant, Managing Trustee at Pune’s Ruby Hall Clinic told news outlets that 18 of the nurses tested at the hospital were Covid-19 positive and a combo of homeopathic and HCQ pills had enormously reduced the complications in the patients. Dr Grant was convinced that homeopathy helped people fight viruses and bacteria by strengthening their immunity, and so, “combining allopathy and homeopathy… will be the correct line of treatment till the world found a vaccine.”
In Tamil Nadu
On April 24th, the Tamil Nadu government announced ‘Aarokyam’ – a special programme with AYUSH interventions. In a public event on May 23rd, with the member-President of the Indian Homeopathic Medical Association (Chennai chapter) by his side, TN Minister Jayakumar distributed vials of AA-30 to people in Royapuram, a COVID-19 hotbed.
“Through GO-201, TN government endorses C-19 treatment with homeopathy,” declared the Minister. “Take 4 globules on an empty stomach for three consecutive days, it will help ward off the virus.”
The 20 Amma Unavagams in the area also dispensed it. More than 700 west zone traffic policemen have taken the pills and Iyappakkam panchayat has been giving these out. Interestingly, the IHMA is based in Kerala, and AA-30 is being distributed in that state door-to-door.
The three stages of the virus spread has no clearly defined borders. Contact-tracing needs painstaking work, quarantining is an overwhelming exercise. Asymptomatic individuals can also infect others, and a majority of those found positive are without symptoms.
In this landscape, taking preventive measures seriously and finding ways to boost immunity of the general population, for whom social distancing is often impossible, could be one of the measures to lessen the impact of the pandemic.