Thousands of people, including critical COVID-19 patients in ambulances, lined up at Krishnapatnam town of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh on the morning of 21 May, waiting for the distribution of a herbal ‘medicine’ for COVID-19 to resume.
The herbal concoctions were being given away free of cost as an Ayurvedic medicine for COVID-19 for nearly a month before district authorities issued orders to temporarily stop the distribution. However, the distribution was resumed on Friday at the behest of YSRCP MLA from Sarvepalli constituency, Kakani Govardhan Reddy.
The MLA said that the distribution was resumed as people were becoming restless waiting for the herbal preparations. The ‘medicines’ were being made and distributed by a man named Bonigi Anandiah, although district authorities did not permit him.
Mass Belief of a ‘Cure’
The widespread belief of his ‘treatment’ among people, who believe it to be a ‘cure’ for COVID-19, has posed a double challenge for authorities. Apart from criticism from medical practitioners and rationalists over Anandaiah’s claims to ‘cure’ COVID-19, the ‘treatment’ has also led to large gatherings (including COVID-19 patients) without following COVID-19 protocol. Before the treatment was stopped earlier this week, nearly 4,000 to 5,000 people had been gathering at the distribution site every day.
MLA Govardhan Reddy said that district authorities were awaiting lab reports before deciding on the permission for Anandaiah's treatment.
“Since they will have to take responsibility in case of any mishap, they wanted to be careful. But thousands of people are restless. So, we allowed distribution for one day. Anyway, it will take two or three days to prepare the concoctions again. Meanwhile, the necessary permission will be taken,” he said.
An alternative location will be arranged for better crowd management and distribution will be limited to around 500 to 1,000 people a day, he said. “Today, nearly 10,000 people arrived, including people from other states. We need to create awareness on protocols, but crowd management has been very difficult as there’s a belief that this treatment is life-saving,” he said.
Noting that patients in ambulances have also lined up for Anandaiah’s treatment, the MLA said that this was one of many COVID-19 treatments being explored. “Ayurveda is one alternative form of treatment, not the only one. Since some people are seeing good results, we have introduced it. Once more people develop trust, we will see how we can distribute it. We also need to be cautious against any adverse effect,” he said, adding that the process mainly involves faith.
4k-5k Had Been Gathering Each Day for ‘Treatment’
Earlier this week, following directions from the Andhra Pradesh Lokayukta, Nellore Collector KVN Chakradhar Babu had instructed a team of district medical and revenue officials as well as Ayurvedic medicine practitioners to conduct an enquiry into the distribution of the herbal preparations by Anandaiah. Samples were sent to the state Ayurvedic lab in Vijayawada for analysis. Meanwhile, Anandaiah was asked not to distribute his preparations unless permitted by a government agency.
According to the report submitted by district officials, including the District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO), to the Nellore collector, Anandaiah had been distributing the preparations as COVID-19 treatment since 21 April (Ram Navami). By 17 May, around 4,000 to 5,000 people had been gathering each day for the treatment, officials said.
Anandaiah claimed to have trained under various Ayurveda and Siddha medicine practitioners, the report said. He was distributing five different preparations made of various herbs and spices — three were specifically meant for those who had tested positive for COVID, one was for all, and one medicine was was eye drops that, he claimed, would help patients increase their blood oxygen levels.
Ayurvedic doctors, who were part of the enquiry, submitted that Anandiah was not a qualified Ayurvedic medicine practitioner and his formulations were not standard recipes. His ingredients were regular herbs and his method of preparation and dosages were sub-standard, they said, adding that there was a possibility of the eye drops being harmful in the long run.
The treatment has gained popularity among the public and district officials noted that the public did not give any negative feedback on the treatment.
In their report, the Ayurvedic doctors also said that they witnessed in person a patient’s low oxygen saturation levels going up. However, it cannot be confirmed whether it was due to the eye drops, they said. The Ayurvedic doctors even recommended that Anandiah’s preparations be given a “fair clinical trial” to prove their efficacy.
“We are of the opinion that the medicine may be given a fair clinical trial at quarantine centres and COVID-care facilities for two to three weeks under Ayurvedic Medical Officers’ supervision without other medicines,” they said in their report to the Collector.
On Wednesday, district Ayush medical officers even took Anandaiah to the Nellore government general hospital to attempt treatment for COVID-19 patients, according to reports. However, this was met with opposition from the doctors at the GGH.
“As specialist doctors believed the ingredients did not have any side effects, after consulting with the DMHO, we went to the government hospital to try administering it to a few patients. But since these preparations are not made according to GMP (good manufacturing practice) and other regulations, the doctors there said they couldn’t allow it,” district Ayush medical officer Srinivas said.
Watch: Distribution of herbal preparations for COVID-19 in Nellore
(This story was first published in The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)