Indian Medical Association, the only representative, national voluntary organization of doctors of modern medicine in India has strongly opposed Baba Ramdev’s claim of developing an Ayurvedic drug, Coronil, to treat Covid-19.
Dr J A Jayalal, National President, IMA, in an interview with Outlook, alleges that Ramdev’s claim is a bunch of lies and the presence of a Health Minister in such a function will send a wrong message in society. Excerpts:
Q) Why do you think that Baba Ramdev and his Patanjali Ayurved’s claim of developing an Ayurvedic drug to treat Covid-19 is misleading?
First of all, it was announced in a function that it is the first evidence-based drug going to cure, prevent and be useful in treating post-Covid-19 complications. Such a false claim, especially in a period like this pandemic, is a cause for serious concern. A common person will start taking it believing that Coronil will treat him or her. This will only increase the mortality rate in India. We wouldn’t have reacted had Baba Ramdev claimed that it is an immunity booster.
Further, the claim to have the World Health Organisation’s certification is misleading as WHO never certified the effectiveness and therapeutic value of the drug.
Q) But the company has thoroughly conducted a clinical trial on 95 asymptomatic patients in a hospital in Jaipur and its result has been published in a good medical journal. Do you doubt the genuineness of the clinical trial?
There are a lot of issues around the paper published in the journal. The paper itself says that it is a pilot study done on 95 asymptomatic patients. If it is a pilot study, then it cannot be claimed to be evidence-based medicine. In a country, where there are so many Covid-19 positive patients, it has taken only 95 asymptomatic patients in two arms. While 50 received a placebo, 45 people were given the drug.
Q) No, my question is even if the sample size is small, do you find any flaw in the method of the trial?
Yes. An asymptomatic patient recovers from Covid-19 infection within five to seven days on its own without administering any medicine. The published paper doesn’t say at what time a person developed an infection and when he became a volunteer for the trial. Let’s say for instance if a person entered into a trial four days after he developed the infection and the other on the very first day, the results are bound to be different.
The other issue with the paper is that one of the researchers is Patanjali itself. It is a producer of the medicine, sponsor of the research, and then a part of the research paper as well. Baba Ramdev's claim has made Patanjali Ayurvedic products a laughing stock in this country.
Q) The trial result paper also suggests that 45 people who were in the treatment group shows a significant decline in serum levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), IL-6 and TNF-α as compared to the 50 patients who were in the placebo group. Doesn’t it show the benefit of the medicine?
Let me tell you that first of all, the paper doesn’t talk about the serum levels of Hs-CRP, IL-6 and TNF- α of the volunteers at the time of their entry into the trial. Secondly, in 99 percent of asymptomatic patients, the serum level of these three indicators remains normal and they don’t need treatment. The treatment is required only when the three indicators go above the normal range. So far as the change in their ranges is concerned, it keeps happening after a couple of days in any healthy individual.
Q) Many modern medicines of Covid-19 failed to live up to their claims. Remdesivir is one such example. There was no Indian volunteer in its clinical trial but it was still included in our treatment protocol. Later on, the WHO solidarity trial confirmed that it is not effective in treatment. Meanwhile, the company made a huge profit. Why did IMA never speak against them?
Let me tell you that ICMR initially said that Hydroxychloroquine should be used as preventive medicine for Covid-19. The same ICMR later said that it is not an effective medicine. But that’s a research-based approach. Research shows that what is true for today may not be true for tomorrow. When further researches show that a drug is not useful for the treatment, it is withdrawn from the treatment. But making a false and misleading claim on the basis of a pilot study is wrong.
Also, let me tell you that no minister had attended the launch of Remdesivir and said that it was a good drug. My request is that let science be a science and it shouldn’t be mixed with politics.
Q) Do you think Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has violated the code of ethics by attending the launch function?
As per our code of ethics, a medical doctor cannot promote a secret drug or a trade name. A country has a lot of social issues. What was the need for the Health Minister to be there in the promotion of a particular drug for a particular private agency? He is an exemplary person and his presence in such a function will send a wrong message to society.
We are also very much concerned that Baba Ramdev said that modern medical practitioners are medical terrorists. This is a very derogatory statement to be issued by someone in the presence of the honorable Health Minister.
Q) But it is alleged that modern medicine always questions the benefits of alternative medicine because you look at it as a competitor. Your take?
No, we are not a competitor to them. Ayurveda has a good tradition in this country. But don’t come with a false claim that you take Coronil and everything will be all right. That’s the wrong message you are going to send to people.
Q) Why are you objecting to the permission granted to practitioners of alternate medicine to conduct surgeries?
We have no objection if they develop their own technique and do surgeries. But the problem is that they borrow anesthesia and drugs from modern medicine and then claim that these are their own methods. That is the problem.
They should do research, come out with evidence-based results and do anything. We have nothing against Ayurveda or any form of traditional or alternative medicine. We are opposing it because of our social concern.
We are ready to extend our hands to support people in alternative medicine. Please bring up the glory of Ayurveda. We are only against these gimmicks and false claims.