New Delhi housewife Sashi scoops COVID-19 “immunity boosting” powder into a jug of water every morning for her family, joining a growing number of Indians who believe that traditional supplements will help ward off the virus.
People in India are increasingly turning to Hindu ayurvedic medicine amid the pandemic and modern Indian consumer companies are cashing in on growing demand for alternative approaches, turning homemade therapies into packaged products such as turmeric milk and holy basil drops.
Sashi, 50, saw adverts on television for a herbal drink made by ayurveda and yoga tycoon Baba Ramdev “that can keep my family safe from the coronavirus.”
“I thought that since it’s been on TV, it must be good,” she said.
The pandemic has increased nervousness about the fragile state of India’s healthcare system. Experts say that because of under-testing and under-reporting the number of cases and deaths is much higher that officially reported.
The natural remedies sector was massive even before the pandemic, with claims that they could treat everything from cancer to the common cold.
It is now worth US$10 billion a year, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Ayurveda practitioner Bhaswati Bhattacharya said that the lack of a coronavirus vaccine and other conventional treatments has driven the rush toward familiar natural remedies.
“Ayurveda has been written for 5,000 years and been around probably for twice that at least. It’s lived through plagues, smallpox and pandemics, so people are saying: ‘Let’s see if it works,’” Bhattacharya said.
The rising interest in ayurveda — the “science of life” in Sanskrit — and other therapies has also been encouraged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which in 2014 set up the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homeopathy.
In January the ministry touted traditional remedies as a means to combat the novel coronavirus.
More recently, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan released guidelines for treating some asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19 with ayurveda and yoga.
At chemists, ayurveda products are displayed as prominently as pharmaceutical drugs.
Mother Dairy, a leading milk producer, said that there has been a “phenomenal” consumer response to its recently launched turmeric milk for children.
“The demand is very, very high so we are ramping up the production and distribution,” Mother Dairy products chief Sanjay Sharma told reporters.
“Health and immunity-led products are a new phenomena. This is an opportunity ... to provide precautionary healthcare for consumers at a very affordable price,” Sharma said.
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