The Indian Medical Association (IMA) wrote an open letter to Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister questioning the AYUSH clinical management protocol for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 that was released on October 6, 2020. In the letter, the apex organisation asked the Health minister if any of his colleagues who had tested positive for COVID-19 consented to following the AYUSH protocol.
The protocol launched on October 6 promotes the use of Ashwagandha, Giloy, Chyawanprash, AYUSH 64 tablets and yoga practices for prevention, treatment of COVID-19 and post-COVID management care. Secretary Rajesh Vaidya Kotecha in a press conference insisted that these are supplementary to the existing allopathic clinical management protocol issued by the Union Health Ministry.
Highlighting that the health minister is relying on "anecdotal and individual subjective experiences", the IMA outlined why the clinical management protocol for COVID-19 using AYUSH and yoga falls short even though it collaborated with many "impressive institutions". The Health and AYUSH Ministry developed this management protocol with All India Institute of Ayurveda (AMA), Delhi, Institute of Post Graduate Training and Research in Ayurved (IPGTRA), Jamnagar, National Institute of Ayurveda (NlA), Jaipur. Central Council for Research in Ayurveda (CCRAS), Mumbai, and Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN), Delhi.
Any scientific observation or finding demands two basic functionalities, wrote the organisation. The same finding should be able to be reproduced in other settings and the studies should have been conducted in double blind control trial settings. Replicating studies helps in determining the consistency and reliability of a hypothesis. In double blind trials, both the participant as well as the researcher are unaware about who is receiving the treatment or placebo. This prevents the study from having any confounding bias that could affect the results. The IMA feels that the AYUSH booklet fails on both these scientific accounts.
In the scathing letter, the body of allopathic doctors posed five questions to the Health Minister. They further stated that he would be inflicting fraudulence and fooling patients if he did not respond to their questions. The IMA added that the Health Minister was passing off placebos without any supporting evidence as drugs.
IMA's Five Questions
The IMA strongly urged that the evidence suggesting the use of Giloy and Chyawanprash for treating asymptomatic and moderate COVID-19 patients be made publicly available for scientific scrutiny.
As the data is not scientifically available, the scientific community at large is unable to deduce whether the evidence is satisfactory, weak, moderate or strong to support the use of these natural products against SARS-CoV-2. The IMA asked the Health Minister about the strength of the existing results.
The association further asked the Minister if any of the people promoting AYUSH medicines as effective and safe against COVID-19 would be willing to act as volunteers and subject themselves to an independent prospective double-blind control study for treating and preventing COVID-19.
Highlighting that several ministers from the Union cabinet tested positive for COVID-19, the IMA asked the Health Minister whether any of his ministerial colleagues consented to getting treated under the AYUSH protocols. Several Union Ministers including Home Minister Amit Shah and AYUSH minister Shripad Naik tested positive for COVID-19. While Shah was admitted to Medanta and AIIMS, Naik was admitted to a private hospital in Panaji, Goa.
Lastly, the IMA sarcastically asked what was stopping the Health Minister from completely handing over COVID-19 care and control to the AYUSH ministry.
The IMA earlier slammed the health ministry for not maintaining a record of the number of doctors who died while being on COVID-19 care. It has been releasing an updated list of doctors who have died whilst on duty. Currently, the list has 515 doctors who succumbed to COVID-19.