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Editorial: Hanging on to blind faith
While a majority of the nation is still weighed down by the anxiety about the pandemic, and its possible impact on the future, a motley crew of misinformed individuals, some of them occupying public offices, and with a significant degree of influence on the common man, has embarked upon COVID-cure narratives that stray far from the realm of science and reasoning.
Just last week, footage that went viral had both netizens and public health experts shaking their heads in indignation. The video in question featured a group of men, who had assembled at a ‘gurukul’ located on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, smearing a mixture of cow dung and urine on their bodies as a cure for COVID-19. One of the attendees was quoted as having said that he believed that the process helped build immunity against the coronavirus. Health experts later clarified in newspapers that there is no scientific basis for such experiments and warned that exposure to such procedures can lead to the onset of the black fungal infection or mucormycosis.
The second wave of the pandemic seems to have even emboldened individuals, who have previously been called out on account of their tall claims, on miracle cures. This month, Baba Ramdev, the brain behind the retail giant Patanjali, which had introduced Coronil, a ‘cure’ for COVID during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, found himself stepping out of line when he mocked those affected by COVID. He said that they just did not know how to breathe properly and were spreading negativity with their complaints of oxygen shortage. The yoga guru had previously supplemented his statements with a claim that the application of mustard oil through the nostrils would also help beat COVID. Subsequently, the vice-president of the Indian Medical Association filed a complaint against Ramdev for his insensitive comments that have come at a time when it was reported that over 900 doctors have lost their lives serving as frontline workers during the pandemic.
One could consider brushing aside such phenomena as white noise and unessential to India’s COVID narrative. But it certainly becomes problematic when those entrusted with safeguarding the nation’s interests also get carried away by the sway of such promises. Researchers at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, had begun conducting clinical trials from February this year to ascertain if chanting the Gayatri Mantra and performing pranayama could help hospitalised COVID-19 patients. And to top it off, NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul, who is considered as one of the officials at the forefront of the nation’s COVID response, had said last month that those who were asymptomatic or had mild cases of COVID, could consume Chyawanprash and kadha (a mixture of herb and spices) to improve their immunity. His comments were met with intense criticism by doctors who lamented that such ideas might prompt people to seek home remedies and delay medical intervention.
As of May 18, India has recorded 2.5 crore COVID cases and 2.78 lakh fatalities, statistics that are only tempered by the fact that the daily caseloads have tapered to 2.63 lakh, thanks to rigorous regiments of lockdowns on public movement. For thousands of citizens in India who have been beset by personal losses in this hour of crisis, it seems unconscionable that our first line of defence involves over-dependence on home cures instead of a tried and tested approach to treatment. The Centre must deploy its extensive resources only in favour of fact-based scientific investigation and research in its battle against the pandemic. Sanitising narratives and creating diversions could only prove counter-productive to the task at hand.
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