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Doctors, health activists rap Ayush ministry's bid to promote alternative medical systems in anti-dengue battle

Arun Sreenivasan, New Delhi
Monday, November 19, 2018, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

While vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and chikunginya are becoming serious public health concerns in the country, the Union Ayush Ministry is drawing flak from medical practitioners and healthcare activists over its bid to push alternative medical systems such as homeopathy and Ayurveda as effective therapeutic options.

Delhi is currently tackling a dengue outbreak and a recent municipal report revealed that as many as 285 cases of dengue were reported in the capital in the week ending November 3. Dengue fever cases and its more severe and sometimes fatal forms - dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome - have been reported in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai also. According to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme under the health ministry, at least 40,868 cases of dengue have been reported with 83 deaths till September this year. The highest burden of the disease is in Maharashtra with 4.667 cases, followed by Odisha (3,883) and Kerala (3,660).

The Ayush ministry has been using its official twitter handle to promote homeopathic medication eupatorium perfoliatum as an effective preventive drug against virus infections such as dengue and chikunginya fever. Adults must take four pills of size 30 and children below 12 should take two pills once a week for 10 weeks, says the ministry advisory.

However, experts point out that the clinical efficacy of eupatorium perfoliatum, commonly called boneset, is not proven conclusively though it has been traditionally used to treat fevers. Products containing boneset have been placed in the ‘Herbs of Undefined Safety’ category by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Infectious diseases should not be treated with clinically unproven drugs and therapies. Prescribing wrong treatment or ineffective traditional recipes will put lives of innocent people at risk,” says Dr Sanchayan Roy, a Delhi-based internal medicine specialist.

Recently, Union Minister of State for Ayush Shripad Naik stated that an ayurvedic medicine against dengue would hit the Indian market within a couple of years. Its multilevel clinical trials were in progress, he said.

“On the one hand, the health ministry has been sensitising people to destroy breeding sites to minimise risk of contracting mosquito-borne illnesses, and on the other hand the government is endorsing unscientific therapies. Serious vector-borne illnesses require careful medical attention and a disease would turn into an epidemic if patients resort to self-medication and ineffective traditional healing systems,” a healthcare activist opined.

The dengue is caused by the mosquito-borne dengue viruses consisting of four types —DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3 and DENV 4. It can turn deadlier as all of its four strains can circulate together, say researchers. The viruses can also circulate with malaria and chikungunya virus.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recently confirmed that DEN 3 is circulating this year in Delhi. There is a significant association of peak in dengue positivity and high larval indices with the post-monsoon period. The disease is common in the age groups of 11-20 and 21-30 as they are more prone to mosquito bites. According to the World Health Organisation, dengue is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease in the world, causing nearly 400 million infections every year.

The ayurvedic drug developed by Indian researchers to cure dengue, claimed to be the first in the world, is still undergoing the double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial in the medical colleges of Belgaum and Kolar. However, many Ayurveda practitioners treat patients using formulations made of Tulasi (Holi basil) and dried ginger, the activist added.

“Ayurvedic drugs and therapies can be used for strengthening the body’s immune system, which might help recover from vector-borne diseases. Other holistic healthcare systems can also be utilised to spread awareness and hygiene measures. But we should recognise the danger of cross-pathy, where untrained physicians prescribing unapproved medicines,” says Dr Sharad Shrivastava, a well-known general physician in Delhi.

Last year, the Ayush ministry faced criticism for advising pregnant women to shun meat products. The ministry gave the health tip in a booklet titled Mother and Child Care. Many medical experts had slammed the advice, stating that non-veg food, high in vitamin B12, is essential for healthy babies.


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