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      Set standards for these medicines


      CPM politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat's spat with popular yoga exponent Swami Ramdev over the ingredients of medicines manufactured by his ashram threatens to snowball into a major controversy. Karat's charges are serious: she claims these medicines, sold as cure-alls for everything from cancer to impotence, have in them human parts including bones.

      He has strongly refuted the allegations. Irrespective of how events pan out, this will focus attention on the safety standards of alternative medicines, a huge, multi-crore industry in India.

      Alternative medical systems like ayurveda, homoeopathy, unani and siddha come under the Cosmetics and Drugs Act 1940 which is outdated. Under the Act neither ayurvedic nor homoeopathic formulations are required to clearly state the ingredients on their containers.

      Independent testing both in India and abroad has found unacceptably high levels of heavy metals in alternative medications, among them arsenic, lead and mercury. These can have fatal consequences if used over a period of time.

      While it is true that people are turning to these alternative systems because of the side-effects of allopathic drugs, they are often not making an informed choice. Despite all its drawbacks, allopathy is subjected to rigorous clinical trials and authentication by experts before medicines are put on the market.

      Alternative medicines undergo no such verification and are marketed as food supplements, drugs or cosmetics. Many of the so-called herbal cosmetics on the market contain artificial preservatives to prolong their shelf-life. Yet gullible consumers snap them up on the assumption that they have no adverse effects.

      The Indian Council for Medical Research has long sought that ayurvedic pharmacies submit evidence gathered from clinical research and register their drugs under the Pharmacopia and Drugs Act. This has not been done. India pins great hopes on breaking into the international market with its alternative medicines. But western countries are wary of Indian herbal products after many were found to contain harmful substances.

      The health ministry should not only examine the charges made by Karat and take the required legal action, but also enforce stringent safety checks on all alternate medicines before they are put on the market. This is the only way of guarding people's health in the long-run.

      January 04, 2006


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