Amid doctors reeling under pressure to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in India, the National Institute of Siddha (NIS) in Chennai has claimed that it has treated 160 patients infected with the coronavirus in a span shorter than the normal recovery time.
The institute has also requested the Tamil Nadu government to hand over all COVID-care centres in the city to Siddha practitioners. However, both modern medicine and Siddha practitioners remain sceptical about the prospect.
The institute has said it was ready with combinations of Siddha drugs and claimed that these could be a possible medication for COVID-19.
However, it is yet to administer these drugs on a large number of patients. For the current batch, it has given only kabasura kudineer, a herbal concoction.
“Of the 160 patients, 92 of them have so far been discharged from hospitals. Three of these patients were given these drugs as they had diarrhoea. But most tested negative within five days,” said Dr R Meenakumari, director of NIS.
Medication for a self-limiting disease?
Since the COVID-19 was a self-limiting disease, modern medicine practitioners felt that it would require no treatment and patients would naturally recover within a few days.
“Placing patients in quarantine for 14 days does not mean that 14 days are required to cure the disease. Some patients recover even within two or three days. So, one cannot claim that traditional medicine can cure the disease faster than modern medicine,” said Dr Poovannan Ganapathy, a doctor working for Air India at the Chennai Airport.
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On the other hand, Meenakumari questioned the efficacy of the drugs that modern medicine practitioners administered to the patients.
“Currently, patients are given zinc and multivitamin supplements, besides paracetamol for fever. But our drugs are anti-viral,” she claimed, adding that the institute has no objection to the government giving modern medicine treatment to patients, but wanted Siddha treatment to be established in all hospitals in the city with COVID-care centres.
But Poovannan argued as to why a self-limiting disease required medication in the first place.
“Even poliovirus would not affect 95 per cent of the infected people. So, COVID-19 needs only symptomatic treatment and that’s why drugs like paracetamol are being given to patients,” he said.
Efficacy of Siddha drugs
However, the bigger question is whether clinical trials had been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of Siddha drugs in COVID-19 patients.
“Before administering their drugs to patients, they (NIS) must explain how the physical and chemical nature of the drugs targets the particular virus or bacteria,” said Dr Satva, a consultant anaesthesiologist at a private hospital in Chennai.
He asked if the drugs had undergone in vitro and in vivo experiments, besides animal testing.
Reacting to the argument, Dr G Sivaraman, another Siddha practitioner, said a lot of research was needed over the administration of Siddha drugs for COVID-19.
“A detailed research must be done before making a claim that Siddha drugs could cure the disease. We need to find whether the drugs are immune enhancers or virostatic,” he said.
However, he said the clinical trials were going on and once the findings are released, these doubts would be dispelled.
“The Central Council of Indian Medicine and Stanley Medical College (in Chennai) have been conducting randomised clinical trials on Siddha drugs and the findings are expected,” he added.
Citing the World Health Organisation’s monitored emergency use of unregistered and experimental interventions (MEURI) guidelines, Sivaraman said, “It can be ethically appropriate to offer individual patients experimental interventions on an emergency basis outside clinical trials, provided that no proven effective treatment exists.”
‘Why no in-house treatment?’
Another issue raised by modern medicine practitioners is why could the NIS not offer its 14.78-acre campus for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, when doctors from the institute could offer their services at private and government hospitals.
To this, Meenakumari said no arrangements had so far been made to convert the institute into a COVID-care facility.
“There are 200 beds in the hospital and a lot of people visit the out-patient department. There are chances of them getting exposed to the virus,” she said.
But when the city is running out of hospital beds amid the spike in COVID-19 cases, Dr Satva asked why didn’t the NIS offer even 10 per cent of their beds for the treatment of the disease.
“There are many people who have trust in Siddha medicine. Why can’t the institute admit them and give treatment?” he questioned.