While big pharmaceutical companies around the globe race to develop treatments for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), one man in India has pushed for traditional, ayurvedic remedies to fight the disease instead.
Indian yoga televangelist Baba Ramdev is pushing through with sales of coronavirus kits containing traditional ayurvedic remedies. This is despite Indian officials warning him against calling them anything but immunity boosters.
Ramdev and his company, Patanjali Ayurved, have emerged as one of the winners in a country that is one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Ramdev’s guarantee that his products will help people fight the coronavirus has resonated with the public. (Related: India’s coronavirus caseload surges after lockdown.)
The guru’s kit or tablets and drops, which includes “Coronil” pills that contain herbs such as giloy and tulsi, or holy basil, is so sought after that it’s being sold alongside Gilead’s remdesivir on the black market.
“We are still selling the medicine and there is tremendous demand for it,” said Acharya Balkrishna, co-founder of Patanjali Ayurved alongside Ramdev.
The kit’s success, however, has caught the eye of critics who say that India’s Ayurveda industry needs to be better regulated.
“The industry gets away with making ridiculous claims on most days but to make such a claim during a global pandemic is a first,” accused Dinesh Thakur, a public health activist and former director of pharma company Ranbaxy.
Balkrishna, however, says that their company is being targetted because their products are spoiling the plans OF big pharma.
“People are questioning our claim because we have spoiled a huge market for coronavirus medicine for them,” said Balkrishna. “They [drug manufacturers] had inflated a big balloon, we have pricked a hole in it.”
He casts the controversy as a battle between the wisdom of traditional Ayurveda and Big Pharma.
The latest shot in this ongoing battle was fired when a “First Information Report” was filed by Indian police against Ramdev and four others for allegedly conspiring to sell Coronil with a “misleading” claim.
In addition, multiple complaints have also been filed that accused Ramdev and Patanjali of developing Coronil without any trial. However, during the products launch event, Ramdev stated that their products had been subject to a controlled clinical trial in Delhi and other cities in India.
“We have taken the necessary permission to make the drug, [and] conduct a clinical trial,” said Ramdev in an interview on India Today.
Ramdev is no stranger to controversy, thanks to his penchant for making astonishing claims. However, this has not stopped Indians from entrusting their health to him.
The self-made guru is a champion of swadeshi, or Indian economic self-reliance. This philosophy has resonated with India’s increasingly assertive middle class. This is a demographic that is hungry for religious assertion and is fed up with the rationalist, socialist legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-independence leader.
Under this mantle of swadeshi, Ramdev has led vastly popular campaigns against corruption and cast foreign companies as neocolonial villains.
Some have compared Ramdev to Billy Graham, the Southern Baptist reverend who energized the Christian right and advised several American presidents. Like Graham, Ramdev has been a prominent voice in the Indian right, and his endorsement helped current Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2014.
For his part, Modi has helped Ramdev and Ayurveda in general. The prime minister has champion yoga and Ayurveda while suggesting that earlier periods of foreign rule had weakened Indians’ awareness of their own heritage and traditions.
During the pandemic, Modi has repeatedly championed “immunity-enhancing ingredients” linked to India, such as ginger and turmeric.
As of reporting time, India currently has over 2 million cases and more than 41,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Learn more about how Big Pharma is trying to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic over at BigPharmaNews.com.