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India's Government Recommends Homeopathy For Coronavirus Prevention. What's The Harm?

30 JANUARY 2020

As the coronavirus continues to spread, health authorities and scientists around the world are offering people the same advice: wash your hands, cover up your coughs, try not to touch your face.

 

Except, that is, in India. Along with the usual hygienic niceties, a government authority this week told the public exactly what to do while we wait for a vaccine: on an empty stomach, take one dose of the homeopathic solution, Arsenicum album30, each day for three days.

Then, in a month, if the outbreak still poses a threat, rinse and repeat.

Far from being a "prophylactic medicine", as the ministry suggests, this miracle concoction is, in reality, a super-diluted form of arsenic trioxide. Not only is the compound known to be fatal if improperly used, but there's also no evidence to suggest it works on the coronavirus, or any other condition for that matter.

If it weren't for the Dalai Lama recently telling his followers to chant a mantra as protection, India's purported tips to fend off the coronavirus might be the least effective advice offered yet.

Now, the two will have to battle for that top spot, and India's ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy) has even more nonsensical suggestions to offer in the fight.

Among them are a whole array of herbal potions and mixes, a drop of sesame oil in each nostril upon waking, and a "light and soft" diet.

The announcement was laughed at by many online, but in India, Ayurveda and other traditional medicines, like Unani, are seen as a legitimate and burgeoning industry.

The Prime Minister himself has said he wants to make them "a way of life" - he's the one who set up the ministry of AYUSH in the first place - and as holistic medicine becomes ever more profitable, the government has started promoting traditional remedies more and more.

 

Ayurveda is said to deal with the "physical, mental, and spiritual world of mankind", and while it translates to the "science of life", actual evidence for its benefits are lacking.

Most of the practices involved in Ayurveda centre around herbal remedies, yoga, and massage - nothing particularly dangerous - but the fact that it's widely endorsed by a powerful government and its health institutions is noteworthy.

'Traditional' medicines like this are seeing a revival in recent decades in some parts of the world, in part as a way to create a sense of shared nationality, some suggest. While their historical authenticity as medical remedies is questionable, governments nonetheless sometimes encourage them, ostensibly as a way to unite cultural groups.

Right now, there's not a whole lot we know about the coronavirus or how to treat it. Patients with mild symptoms are told to rest and stay hydrated, and most of the deaths have been among elderly folk, or those with vulnerable immune systems.

Given the contagious nature of the coronavirus, a vaccine is clearly the best route for prevention, and work on this has already begun at multiple organisations.

But while the rest of the world prepares for the outbreak with evidence-based measures, India is taking a different route.