Thousands of people, including critical COVID-19 patients in ambulances, lined up at Krishnapatnam town of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh on the morning of May 21, waiting for distribution of a herbal ‘medicine’ for COVID-19 to resume. The herbal concoctions were being distributed free of cost in the name of Ayurvedic treatment for COVID-19 for nearly a month, before district authorities issued orders to temporarily stop the distribution. However, the distribution program was resumed on Friday at the behest of YSRCP MLA from Sarvepalli constituency Kakani Govardhan Reddy. The MLA said that distribution was resumed as people were becoming restless waiting for the herbal preparations, which are being made and distributed by a man named Bonigi Anandiah, although district authorities were yet to give permission.
The widespread popularity of his ‘treatment’ among people who believe it to be a ‘cure’ for COVID-19 has posed a double challenge for authorities. Apart from criticism from medical practitioners and rationalists over Anandaiah’s claims to ‘cure’ COVID-19 patients with the herbal preparations, which include eye-drops (being recommended by Anandaiah for people with dropping blood oxygen levels), the treatment has also led to large gatherings (including COVID-19 patients) without following COVID-19 protocol. Before the treatment was stopped earlier this week, nearly 4,000 to 5,000 people were gathering at the distribution site every day.
MLA Govardhan Reddy said that district authorities are awaiting lab reports before deciding on the permissions for Anandaiah's treatment. “Since they will have to take responsibility in case of any mishaps, they wanted to be careful. But thousands of people are restless so we allowed distribution for one day. Anyway it will take two or three days to prepare the concoctions again. Meanwhile, the necessary permission will be taken,” he said. Meanwhile, an alternative location will be arranged for better crowd management, and distribution will be limited to around 500 to 1,000 people a day, he said. “Today nearly ten thousand people have arrived, including people from other states. We need to create awareness on protocols, but crowd management has been very difficult as there’s a belief that this treatment is life saving,” he said.
Noting that patients in ambulances have also lined up for Anandaiah’s treatment, the MLA said that this was one of many COVID-19 treatments being explored. “Ayurveda is one alternative kind of treatment, not the only one. Since some people are seeing good results, we have introduced it. Once more people have developed trust, we will see how we can distribute it. We also need to be cautious ... If there are adverse effects, we don't know the cure. We will also look into any harmful effects,” he said, adding that the process mainly involves faith.
Thousands gather for the ayurvedic medicine being distributed for free by a man in Nellore dist. Critical patients also being brought in ambulances. An inquiry underway, samples sent for testing by district officials. Locals say good response to medicine. #AndhraPradesh pic.twitter.com/97GxwMJUhH— Paul Oommen (@Paul_Oommen) May 21, 2021
Earlier this week, following directions from the Andhra Pradesh Lokayukta, Nellore Collector KVN Chakradhar Babu had instructed a team of district medical and revenue officials, as well as Ayurvedic medicine practitioners, to conduct an inquiry into the distribution of herbal preparations by Anandaiah. Samples of the herbal preparation were sent to the state Ayurvedic lab in Vijayawada for analysis, and in the meanwhile, Anandaiah was asked not to distribute his preparations unless permitted by a government agency.
According to the inquiry report submitted by district officials, including the District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO), to the Nellore collector, Anandaiah had been distributing the preparations as COVID-19 treatment for nearly a month, starting from April 21 (the occasion of Ram Navami) with a small number of visitors. By May 17, around 4,000 to 5,000 people were gathering each day for the treatment, officials said.
Anandaiah claimed to have learned under various Ayurveda and Siddha medicine practitioners, the report said. He was distributing five different preparations made of various herbs and spices — three were specifically meant for those who had tested positive for the coronavirus, one was for all, and one was eye-drops which he claimed would help patients with their blood oxygen levels. The Ayurvedic doctors who were part of the inquiry submitted that Anandiah was not a qualified Ayurvedic medicine practitioner, and his formulations were not standard recipes. His ingredients were regular herbs, and his method of preparation and dosages were sub-standard, they said, adding that there was a possibility of the eye-drops proving harmful in the long run.
MLA Kakani Govardhan Reddy and Anandaiah distributing the preparations
The treatment has gained popularity among the public and district officials noted that the public did not give any negative feedback on the treatment. In their report, the Ayurvedic doctors also said that they witnessed in person a patient’s low oxygen saturation levels going up. However, it cannot be confirmed that it is due to the eye-drops, they said. The Ayurvedic doctors even recommended that Anandiah’s preparations be given a “fair clinical trial” to prove their efficacy. “We are of the opinion that the medicine may be given a fair clinical trial in quarantines and Covid Care Centres for two to three weeks under Ayurvedic Medical Officers supervision without other medicines,” they said in their report to the Collector.
On Wednesday, district Ayush medical officers even took Anandaiah to the Nellore government general hospital to attempt treatment for COVID-19 patients, according to reports. However, this was met with opposition from the doctors at the GGH. “As specialist doctors believed the ingredients did not have any side effects, after consulting with the DMHO, we went to the government hospital to try administering it to a few patients. But since these preparations are not made according to GMP (good manufacturing practice) and other regulations, the doctors there said they couldn’t allow it,” district Ayush medical officer Srinivas said.
Watch: Distribution of herbal preparations for COVID-19 in Nellore