A major part of the Government’s healthcare agenda has been the promotion of alternative medicines. To this end, the BJP government established a cabinet ministry in 2014 to promote traditional and alternative medicine systems like ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha, and homoeopathy named the AYUSH ministry). Under the previous Congress government, AYUSH was a small department within the Health ministry
The BJP’s main rivals took the AYUSH Ministry to task for advertising purported anti-diabetic medications Congress have deemed “unscientific”. In this year’s Union Budget, the AYUSH Ministry was allocated Rs 2,254.76 crore According to Congress, part of its budget has been spent on advertising ayurvedic anti-diabetic drugs, AYUSH-82 and BGR-34, have “major inadequacies”Congress media convenor Trajano D’Mello accused the Government of falsely claiming the drugs are “the cheapest anti-diabetic drug in the market.”
The AYUSH Ministry developed the medications in question in collaboration with the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The medications were described as “scientifically validated” at the time of their release, when it was reported that clinical tests suggested 67 percent efficacy.
“In some instances, the report said, the drugs are “known to increase the blood glucose level to a dangerous high.””
However, a report by Alt News says BRG-34 and AYUSH-82 were “released with insufficient clinical testing and…relied on pre-clinical animal testing for the majority of its claims.” It also countered the narrative that users were free of side-effects, noting that “patients reported some side effects such as allergies, stomach burning and no change in sugar levels during the consumption of the drug.” In some instances, the report said, the drugs are “known to increase the blood glucose level to a dangerous high.”
Admittedly, the correlation between such physical effects and the medication cannot be proven because of the lack of rigorous clinical testing. However, this only sheds more light on the problems with the medications and the regulations in the alternative healthcare sector.
The two medications have been the subject of controversy for some time. An advertisement promoting AYUSH-82 was withdrawn from the air in 2016 for misleading diabetics into thinking treatment with the drug could eliminate the need to manage diabetes with insulin. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, last year came under fire for praising BGR-34 at a CSIR event last year.
With Congress now hitting out at the AYUSH Ministry over the drugs, it reflects the controversy is far from settled. Congress wants to invoke this controversy to punch holes in the BJP government’s health policy and indicates that the broader row over traditional and alternative medicines may be ongoing for some time.