The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has the world in the grip of panic. This has resulted in people the globe over taking precautionary measures ranging from handwashing to the wearing of face masks to even foregoing forms of physical contact such as hugging and shaking hands. Reasonable precautions such as these have been taken up en masse. On the other hand, Telangana, facing its first cases of the disease, has opted for a dangerous route — prescribing homoeopathy as a “prophylactic”.
The state government’s AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy) department on Tuesday began distributing what it claims to be prophylactic homoeopathic medication for COVID-19. This product, ‘Arsenic Alb 30 P’, having been described as a prophylactic, is therefore being suggested by the state government as being an official preventative measure against the disease. This is a highly reckless and dangerous idea and practice, given the lack of evidence for the arsenic-based treatment having any effect against COVID-19 or, indeed, against any disease at all.
The homoeopathic treatment involves an amount of arsenic in water diluted to the point that there is almost no trace of the original substance. Studies into the practice of medicating in such a way have described it as “against the laws of natural science” and “scientifically implausible”.
The treatment has been regarded as mostly safe. This is primarily due to the fact that arsenic – though a toxin – has often been diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the original arsenic solution remains. This renders the solution unable to induce arsenic poisoning. Presumably, the medicament is left without any supposed active ingredient left at all.
As previously reported by Health Issues India, a large number of Indian rivers — and thus, drinking water — including the water of the River Ganga – is polluted with high levels of arsenic. Given the dilution levels of the homoeopathic concoction, the total arsenic volume in drinking water amounts to a higher dosage.
Studies have shown, however, that poorly prepared medications of this type have the potential to be lethal. Given the use of arsenic, improperly prepared medication in which dilution is poorly performed can result in acute arsenic toxicity. Even in small doses, consistent use of arsenic can cause severe harm.
The use of Arsenicim album in homoeopathy also seems to be sporadic. For it to be promoted as a state government-backed preventative tool for COVID-19 with seemingly no testing having been done seems not only irresponsible but dangerous. The treatment is purportedly useful in treating anxiety, digestive issues, burning pains and even syphilis.
In comments to The News Minute, homoeopathy physician and senior medical officer at DK Homeo Government Hospital, Dr S Ramachandar said, “Aresenica Alb is not only meant for coronavirus but for any kind of influenza. It works as an immune booster. 200 P is for swine flu while 30P is for coronavirus symptoms.”
Notably there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting this notion. There is nothing to indicate any previous attempts at using the treatment against coronavirus at all. Given that the treatment has been suggested by the state government itself, some individuals may assume use of the arsenic will prevent the disease. This, in turn, could lead to complacency in procedures which could actually help prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as handwashing and use of a mask.
There have been 100,309 cases of COVID-19 globally since the beginning of the outbreak. Of these cases, there have been 3,408 associated deaths at the time of writing. India currently has thirty cases, though the number is slowly rising since the announcement of fresh infections at the beginning of this week.
The national capital Delhi and the Telangana state capital Hyderabad have reported new cases. Additionally, in the Rajasthan state capital Jaipur, an Italian tourist tested positive for COVID-19. A further 22 cases of COVID-19 were then confirmed. A further case has since been identified in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
When asked if the medication had been tested, Dr Vijaya Sravanthi, medical officer at Hyderabad’s Marri Chenna Reddy Human Resources Department Institute’s (MCRHRDI) AYUSH dispensary (who was overseeing the distribution of the pills) said, “the Central Council of Homeopathy has certified that this can be given for patients showing coronavirus symptoms. Homoeopathic medicines will be based on symptoms. These pills are not just for coronavirus but for all influenza. The potency differs from one virus to another and it’s not for cure but, only for prevention.”
As India braces for a potential large-scale outbreak, evidence-based preventative measures must be supported. Government-backing of such untested measures could be a hindrance to actual measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — ultimately putting lives at risk.