Ramdev apologises for mocking modern medicine, but yoga guru has often taken science for a ride

Patanjali's Coronil, a purportedly 'Ayurvedic' concoction, has also been at the centre of controversy in the recent past

FP Staff May 24, 2021 14:55:26 IST
Ramdev apologises for mocking modern medicine, but yoga guru has often taken science for a ride

File image of yoga guru Ramdev.Reuters

The controversy over Ramdev's remarks on modern medicine appears to have been put to rest for now, with the yoga guru apologising for his statements.

However, this was not before Union health minister Harsh Vardhan criticised the remarks, and urged Ramdev to withdraw them. The censure from the Union minister was somewhat unexpected, considering the yoga guru's perceived proximity to the ruling BJP.

Subsequently, the health minister welcomed Ramdev's apology, saying that it was an indication of his 'maturity.' Nevertheless, this is one among several recent incidents that have dented the highly influential yoga guru's credibility.

IMA's objections

The Indian Medical Association, citing a video circulating on social media, said Ramdev has claimed that allopathy is a “stupid science" and medicines such as remdesivir, faviflu, and other drugs approved by the Drugs Controller General of India have failed to treat COVID-19 patients.

The doctor’s body also quoted Ramdev as saying that “lakhs of patients have died after taking allopathic medicines".

The IMA said that Ramdev should be prosecuted under the Epidemic Diseases Act as "untutored" statements are "a threat to the literate society of the country as well as to the poor people falling prey to him".

In a strongly-worded statement, the doctor's body said, "The Union health minister (Harsh Vardhan) who himself is a practicing modern medicine allopathic postgraduate and head of this (health) ministry, should either accept the challenge and accusation of this gentleman and dissolve the modern medical facility or boldly face and prosecute the person for his words of arson on the sovereignty of the country and book him under the Epidemic Act to save millions of people from such unscientific utterances."

While Ramdev may have now taken back the statement, it appears to have caused fresh doubts about modern medicine in the minds of many of his followers. This has led many individual doctors also to lash out at him. A senior resident doctor, in an article for The Print, noted that after the video, people have started questioning her intentions behind the treatment protocols. She rued, "They (patients) demand that I remove all those drugs that Ramdev, India’s favourite yoga influencer, claims have ‘failed’, including steroids and remdesivir. Instead, they want an unproven herbal concoction from Ramdev’s kitchen — ‘Coronil‘ — to be put on top of the treatment chart. Even if I don’t heed these demands, I know they will self-medicate themselves with it."

Ramdev apologises for mocking modern medicine but yoga guru has often taken science for a ride

Past controversies

Patanjali's Coronil, a purportedly 'Ayurvedic' concoction, has also been at the centre of controversy in the recent past. Notably, the product was launched by Union ministers Harsh Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari with much fanfare.  At the time, Ramdev gave interviews to media outlets which falsely claimed that Coronil had received the World Health Organisation's approval (see here, for example).

Following the row, the WHO's South East Asia office had to put out a statement clarifying its position.

While Patanjali had pointed to a paper on its efficacy published in a journal called Phytomedicine, there were several flaws in the testing methodology. Firstly, the test was conducted on only 100 people, as noted by an article in The Wire. In contrast, tests for the efficacy of remdesivir and dexamethasone were conducted on 1,361 and 6,425 participants in all. Also, crucially, the study did not mention the viral load in the treatment and placebo groups on day 0 of the trial.

While a large number of people look to Ayurveda as a form of alternative medicine, many have questioned its scientific validity, especially when it comes to curing modern diseases such as COVID-19. As noted by an article in Indiaspend, the AYUSH protocol for COVID-19 has 253 citations, many of which have serious deficiencies. For example, many studies are not related to COVID-19 at all, but other diseases such as breast cancer, HIV, diabetes and malaria, etc. Some studies have not been conducted on humans yet, but on animals like mice or chicks.

Considering the Centre's backing of Ayurveda and traditional medicine, it is somewhat surprising that the health minster chose to counter Ramdev's recent assertions. Nevertheless, the yoga guru's statements damage his own credibility and have the potential to hamper India's fight against the coronavirus.

With inputs from PTI

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