ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Politics of Medicine in a Pandemic

Medical pluralism or the coexistence of several systems of medicine in the public domain has attracted more attention than ever before in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and also generated its fair share of controversies. The acerbic exchanges between the Indian Medical Association, a professional body of biomedical practitioners and, a leading private company selling Ayurvedic products, on the relative efficacy of biomedicine and Ayurveda are illustrative of bringing out certain problems in the response of these medical systems to COVID-19 today.


Writing about the politics of medi­cine in a pandemic when the battle between the Indian Me­dical Association (IMA) said to be representing biomedicine and Baba Ramdev clai­ming to represent Ayurveda has been raging, is like walking on a tightrope, because the issues have to be separated from the individual or the association talking about it and their vested interests in the matter. One has to create the space to communicate about traditional medicine without falling into right wing populism. Though the parties to the ­debate are only levelling criticisms about each other without much intellectual content, the issues at stake in the debate are emble­matic of the problems that ail medical pluralism1 in India—the refusal of the biomedical professionals to engage with other medical systems with an open mind and educate themselves on the distinct approach of traditional medicines to the body and their therapeutic methods on the one hand and, the unsustainable commodification of herbal medicines and the positioning of proprietary drugs in the name of Ayurveda, on the other.

In the article, I would be taking three moments in the past 15 months since the pandemic began, to present the larger picture on medical pluralism, medical episte­mo­logy2 and the validation of therapies. The first moment is the anno­uncement of an Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) treatment protocol for COVID-19 by the Ministry of AYUSH in April 2020 and the IMA’s objections to it. The second moment is the launching of Patanjali’s Coronil tablets in June 2020 as remedy for
COVID-19 and the third moment is the utter confusion in the biomedical protocol for COVID-19 and the emergence of a parallel epidemic of black fungus due to the iatrogenic consequen­ces of improper and excessive use of steroids on COVID-19 patients in biomedical treatment.

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Updated On : 24th Jul, 2021
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