Context: A homoeopathic drug, Arsenicum album 30, has become a subject of debate after several states recommended it for prophylactic (preventive) use against Covid-19.
More on the news:
- This was after the Ministry of AYUSH listed the drug among “preventive and prophylactic simple remedies” against Covid-19.
- The debate stems from the fact that there is no scientific evidence that the drug works against Covid-19, a fact stressed not only by medical scientists but also by some homoeopathic practitioners themselves.
- Even in states that have no protocol for using the drug against Covid-19, there have been reports about people flocking to homeopathic clinics to buy Arsenicum album, sometimes at triple the cost.
- Even local chemists have started stocking this medicine.
- Arsenicum album is made by heating arsenic with distilled water, a process repeated several times over three days.
- The health hazards of arsenic contamination in water are well known - long-term exposure to the metal can cause skin cancer, pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. The homoeopathic drug has less than 1% arsenic.
- Arsenicum album is considered to correct inflammation in the body. It takes care of diarrhoea, cough and cold.
- Arsenicum album is used commonly by homeopaths to treat anxiety, restlessness, cold, ulcerations, burning pains. It is taken in powder form or as a tablet.
- A small bottle with one course costs Rs 20-30.
The Covid-19 context:
- Recently, at its 64th meeting, the Scientific Advisory Board of the Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy (CCRH) opined that Arsenicum album 30 could be taken as prophylactic medicine against Coronavirus infections.
- Following this, the Ayush Ministry recommended taking the medicine for three days on an empty stomach and repeating the dose after a month if an outbreak continues locally.
- Later, when India had recorded Covid-19 cases, the Ministry released a notification with “preventive and prophylactic simple remedies” against Covid-19-like illness and listed Arsenicum album 30 as a homeopathic solution.
- However, Indian Council of Medical Research has issued no guidelines regarding the medicine.
- The WHO has no guidelines on using Arsenicum album as a Covid-19 treatment either.
- The Maharashtra government is allowing the drug’s use as an immunity booster, like vitamin C tablets, but not encouraging it as a prophylactic.
Is it ethical to offer an unproven drug?
According to the Ministry, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, an expert committee in the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended “it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment on prevention keeping in view no vaccine or antivirals were available.
- With no clinical trial or large-scale study, the massive demand has worried some homeopaths, too.
- The Ayush Ministry has based its recommendation on existing use of the medicine for respiratory illness and influenza.
- Questioning efficacy: Several homeopaths have pointed out that each individual reacts differently to homeopathic medicines and one medicine cannot be universally held as a prophylactic for all. It can only be a part of the treatment, if at all.