COVID patient Kotaiah, a retired headmaster from Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore, succumbed on 31 May, after he had been hospitalised at the ICU of Nellore district government hospital for chemical conjunctivitis and dropping oxygen levels.
Before his health condition worsened, Kotaiah had consumed the herbal preparations distributed by a country medicine practitioner, B Anandaiah, who has been claiming that his ‘medicine’ cures COVID-19.
Scores of others who were administered the ‘medicine’ have suffered similar complications, doctors said. According to Dr Kalesha Basha, who works in the general surgery department of Nellore government hospital, so far nearly 100 patients who took Anandiah’s eye drops have come to the government facility alone.
Despite strong criticism from the medical community and rationalists, Andhra Pradesh government approved distribution of the ‘medicine’ since 30 May.
Close to 1 Lakh Given ‘Medicine’
According to sources, the Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy stated that herbal concoctions were not cures for COVID-19. The mix is only a health supplement that people can choose to consume. The government had given a green signal only for the oral herbal concoction and not the eye drops.
While giving permission for the herbal preparation, the state health authorities warned that COVID-19 patients should not stop taking the drugs prescribed by doctors.
Nearly a week after the government’s nod, long queues of people were seen waiting to get the formulation in Krishnapatnam where Anandaiah and his family members had started distributing the herbal concoction.
Earlier, the distribution of the concoction was stopped on 21 May as it had led to massive overcrowding at the venue in Krishnapatnam and violation of COVID-19 safety norms.
However, AYUSH commissioner Ramulu N had reportedly said that the herbal remedy had been administered to around 80,000 people before it was halted by the government.
Is the ‘Medicine’ Tested?
The government stated that it is was yet to receive conclusive proof of the efficacy of the eye drops, while it had been established that the concoction of ingredients such as honey, pepper, green camphor, nutmeg, black cumin, cinnamon, and medicinal herbs was not harmful. This will, however, not cure the coronavirus infection.
Nellore district officials, however, found that Anandaiah was not a qualified professional in ayurvedic concoctions and the formula prescribed by him did not form part of any standard recipe.
At present, Anandiah’s ‘medicine’ has undergone ‘phase I trials’, held jointly by the Regional Ayurvedic Research Centre in Vijayawada, and the Sri Venkateswara Ayurveda College in Tirumala. Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) under the AYUSH ministry, is monitoring this research. The ‘phase I trial’ is nothing but feedback from the patients who were administered with the concoctions. According to officials, “570 respondents have participated in the trial.”
Promotion by Opposition Parties
In May, when the government had put a hold on the distribution of the ‘medicine’, opposition Telugu Desam Party and Jana Sena Party had demanded the government to resume its distribution.
Endorsing B Anandaiah, who is credited for developing the ‘medicine’, TDP’s Somireddy Chandra Mohan Reddy and JSP leader Ketham Reddy Vinod Reddy had demanded the government to re-establish a public facility along with police protection or face the wrath of the people.
Defying government orders, YSRCP MLA from Sarvepalli Kakani Govardhan Reddy had organised a large distribution drive in Krishnapatnam, while the ‘medicine’ was being ‘studied’ at an Ayurvedic lab in Vijayawada.
Former Minister Somireddy Chandra Mohan Reddy from TDP had said that there is a public outcry for the ‘herbal medicine’, and alleged that Anandiah is being “detained and forced to make the medicines for MLA Kakani Govardhan Reddy’s relatives and associates.”
Similarly, JSP leader Ketham Reddy Vinod Reddy alleged that the MLA is “secretly making the medicines and distributing it to his people.” Both these leaders demanded that the government remove all restrictions against the distribution of the eye-drops, and resume administering the medicines to the general public.
Calling the behaviour of political parties as ‘criminal’, social scientist from Telangana PL Vishweshwar Rao has demanded that politicians refrain from their anti-science stance which could potentially endanger scores of people, desperate to save their lives.
“It is purely criminal for the political parties to encourage quackery. Already several people are suffering with eye infection, and at this juncture, demanding its resumption based on ‘public demand’ is highly irresponsible,” Vishweshwar Rao said.
Politics of Medicine
Rao noted that Andhra is not isolated in this phenomenon and that it is prevalent across the country. “Anti-science, anti-logic and irrationalism has been promoted under the present regime,” he said.
Rao cited the government’s silence regarding yoga teacher Ramdev, who recently mocked modern medicine and remarked that “allopathy is a stupid science,” to substantiate his claim that the BJP-led Union government is undermining scientific temper.
Slamming the politics around ‘medicine’, Dr Shaik Kalesha Basha, assistant professor at Nellore government medical college said, “Politicians should not indulge in this. This is not their realm. Leave it to the scientists and experts in the field to determine if that medicine should be administered or not. It is highly unethical and immoral to play such dangerous politics,” he said, condemning the political parties.
“Every political party is trying to get mileage from this issue. Because political parties are not interested in scientific temper, they are interested in vote casting. So they are doing emotional politics. So obviously, when there is emotion riding in favour of Anandiah, they want to exploit it.”K Nageshwar Rao, Political Commentator
Stating that it is convenient for the opposition parties to make such demands at the expense of people, he added, “The TDP can make such a demand, but if something happens to the people, they won’t be held accountable, because they are not in power. They can play it both ways.”