Arsenicum album 30 

#GS3 #Science&Technology #Health #Covid19 

Following an AYUSH Ministry advisory, several states have recommended Arsenicum album 30 as a preventive against Covid, although there is no evidence that it works. A look at the drug, and the debate. 

  • A homoeopathic drug, Arsenicum album 30, has become a subject of debate after several states recommended it for prophylactic (preventive) use against Covid-19.  
  • 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. 
  • Arsenicum album 30 has been recommended by the state governments in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.  
  • While the Maharashtra government is yet to take a formal decision, Mumbai civic authorities have been distributing the drug to high-risk populations in at least two wards.  
  • The Haryana prisons department and Mumbai police too are also distributing the drug to prisoners and officers respectively. 
  • 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. 

The drug 

  • 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 body. It takes care of diarrhoea, cough and cold. A small bottle with one course costs Rs 20-30. 
  • 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. 

The Covid-19 context 

  • On January 28, 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”.  
  • The CCRH released a fact sheet stating this medicine is only a “possible prevention” against flu. The following day, 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. 
  • On March 6, by when India had recorded five Covid-19 cases, Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary in the Ayush Ministry, wrote to all chief secretaries listing out preventive and prophylactic measures.  
  • His letter recommended a three-day dose of Arsenicum album 30 as a prophylactic. The following day, the Ministry released another notification with “preventive and prophylactic simple remedies” against Covid-19-like illness and listed Arsenicum album 30 as a homeopathic solution. 
  • The letter said during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, an expert committee in the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended “it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment on prevention keeping in view no vaccine or anti-virals were available”. 
  • Following the Ministry’s recommendations, various state governments and district authorities have started distributing the medicine, in some cases free. 
  • The Central Drug Standard Control Organisation last month issued a notification allowing private practitioners to try alternative remedies like Ayurveda and homoeopathy to treat Covid-19. 

Where’s the science? 

  • Dr Balram Bhargava, director of the Indian Council of Medical Research told “We have issued no guidelines regarding the medicine.” 
  • The WHO has no guidelines on using Arsenicum album as a Covid-19 treatment either. “No evidence that it works,” WHO chief scientist. 
  • The Maharashtra government has set up a task-force to evaluate the homoeopathic drug and decide whether it should be used against Covid-19. Its members said they remain undecided. 

Concerns within the field 

  • With no clinical trial or large-scale study having been undertaken anywhere to scientifically validate the use of Arsenicum album 30 as a preventive medication, the massive demand has worried some homeopaths, too.  
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