Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached out to Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) practitioners to participate in efforts to tackle the disease – while also cautioning against promoting unproven cures.
Modi interacted with AYUSH practitioners via videoconferencing over the weekend and suggested that they could benefit the health of the country by promoting practices such as yoga to benefit personal health and wellbeing. Modi touted existing efforts such as “promoting #YogaAtHome to de-stress the mind and strengthen the body during this difficult phase” according to a press release.
The release observed that India’s network of AYUSH practitioners are “spread through the length and breadth of the country” and reported that Modi exhorted practitioners to use it for the public good. “It’s imperative for them…while working according to WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines,” the release said, “to spread the message of good practices which need to be adopted in the efforts to control the spread of the virus.” He suggested that AYUSH practitioners use utilities such as telemedicine to raise awareness of such practices – emphasising social distancing.
Yet even as Modi sought to solicit the input of AYUSH practitioners to benefit public wellbeing at a time of lockdown, he is reported to have taken a stand on responsible practice when mentioning specific AYUSH medicaments as it relates to COVID-19. “The Prime Minister underlined the importance of countering and fact-checking unsubstantiated claims of AYUSH having cure for the disease, adding that AYUSH scientists, ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research], CSIR [Council of Scientific and Industrial Research] and other research organisations must come together for evidence-based research,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
During the videoconference, the release outlined that “AYUSH practitioners… talked about the impact of these traditional practices towards boosting immunity. They also mentioned their efforts to conduct research for symptomatic treatment, and expressed desire to serve the nation during this time of crisis.”
There have been controversies involving alternative and traditional medicine practitioners – even at the level of the AYUSH Ministry – promoting remedies to prevent or cure coronavirus. In January, the AYUSH Ministry was criticised for “irresponsible, dangerous pseudoscientific quackery mixed in with generic personal hygiene recommendations” by journalist Sandhya Ramesh (among others). This followed the “Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy [discussing] the ways and means of prevention of coronavirus infection through homoeopathy in [the] 64th meeting of its scientific advisory board” – a move that came at the AYUSH Ministry’s insistence.