Sashi, a housewife from New Delhi, pours an “immunity-boosting” powder into a pitcher of water every morning for the whole family. Trust, like many Indians, in the virtues of ancient Ayurvedic medicine against the pandemic.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine is in vogue in India, a country with more than eight million cases of infection and more than 120,000 deaths for a population of 1.3 billion people.
A boom that benefits modern Indian companies that sell traditional products such as well packaged turmeric-based golden milk or holy basil oil. This market represents 10 billion dollars, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Sashi, 50, explains seeing ads on television promoting a tisane “that can protect my family from coronavirus,” produced by Baba Ramdev, a yogi-turned-tycoon with his brand Patanjali.
“I thought that since it was on television, it must be good,” he adds.
Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, a specialist in Ayurvedic medicine, believes that this interest is due to distrust of modern medicine and also to the fact that there is still no vaccine against the coronavirus.
“Ayurveda was put into writing 5,000 years ago and has certainly been around for twice as long,” he told AFP. This medicine “has survived the plague, smallpox, pandemics and that’s why people say, ‘Let’s see if it works.’
With the pandemic, concern has also increased over the fragile Indian healthcare system. Numerous experts estimate that coronavirus cases and deaths far exceed official data, due to a lack of evidence and many go unreported.
– Yoga, Ayurveda and Unani –
Interest in ayurveda – Sanskrit for “science of life” – and other holistic medicines is supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.
In fact, in 2014 he created a ministry of traditional medicines, grouped under the acronym AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and homeopathy).
In January, this ministry recommended them against the coronavirus. Recently, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan published a “national clinical management protocol” for covid-19 based on Ayurveda and yoga for moderate and asymptomatic cases.
In pharmacies, Ayurvedic products rival on par with conventional medicines.
Dairy producer Mother Dairy highlights the “phenomenal” success of its new “haldi” (turmeric) milk for children. “The demand is very, very high, so we are increasing production and distribution,” a manager, Sanjay Sharma, told AFP.
“Health and immunity-promoting products are a new phenomenon,” he adds. “It’s an opportunity … to offer preventive care to consumers at a very affordable price.”
Philipe Haydon, CEO of Himalaya Drug Company, India’s pioneer of herbal medicines and creams, estimates that the demand for products that support immunity and wellness has increased tenfold since the start of the pandemic.
Taking advantage of the rise in alternative treatments, some claim to have found a way to “cure” covid-19 disease.
Although there is no scientific evidence, several BJP politicians have advocated the use of urine or cow dung.
In June, the AYUSH ministry asked Baba Ramdev to stop selling his plant-based Coronil as a treatment against coronavirus.
The Indian Medical Association – the main organization representing Indian doctors – asked Minister Vardhan, who is a doctor, for proof of the efficacy of Ayurveda and yoga against this disease.
“If they are good for your health, you can use them. But none of them provide any particular protection against covid-19,” Anand Krishnan, specialist professor of public health at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New York, told AFP. Delhi. “The main thing is to observe the social distancing measures, put on the mask and wash your hands.”
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