Baba in a pandemic

Ramdev’s dubious claims, outbursts on modern medicine, proximity to government, raise questions about public policy.

In the battle against the novel coronavirus, governments must not only facilitate the adoption of scientific protocols but must also be seen to be following science unequivocally. Unfortunately, this cardinal principle of public health has not received its due from the Centre and some state governments. They have not always acted decisively against those spreading misinformation. Worse still, their failure to distance themselves from science deniers has sent out wrong signals to those waging a grim battle against a notoriously unpredictable contagion. Baba Ramdev, for instance, has sought to exploit mass anxiety by making inaccurate claims about products manufactured by his Ayurvedic pharmacy, Patanjali Ayurved. On most occasions, he has got away with a mildly worded censure. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan did come out strongly against the yoga guru last week after he disparaged the allopathic system as a “farce” and alleged that people had died because of allopathic medicines rather than oxygen shortage but Ramdev’s own response to the public outrage against the statement on doctors was more a disclaimer than an apology.

In his propagation of yoga and indigenous cures, Ramdev may have much in common with the world view of the Sangh Parivar. But this association acquires ominous portents when key aspects of the government’s response to the public health crisis bear its imprint. In February, Union ministers Harsh Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari shared the stage with Ramdev at the launch of Patanjali Ayurved’s controversial Coronil care kit. And, less than a week after the yoga guru’s outburst against allopathy, Haryana’s BJP-led government made the Coronil kit a part of Covid care in the state — about a lakh such kits will be distributed amongst patients. Doctors and other healthcare professionals tirelessly battling the virus at the frontlines could do without such ill-judged policy. It’s disturbing that a therapy with a nearly year-long history of dubious claims — from being touted as a cure for Covid to being held up as an immunity booster — has a state government’s backing.

This is not to undermine the role of Ayurveda in healthcare but to underline the primacy of regulatory protocols and evidence-based policy in the fight against the virus. This imperative is heightened given that quackery and anti-science attitudes are rampant in parts of the country. The government can ill afford to be seen to be at odds with science and evidence-based policy during the country’s worst health crisis.

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