Separating seed from chaff
According to our main story yesterday the Health
Ministry has decided to ban all unregistered herbal medicines.
The decision was taken by Minister Maithripala Sirisena at a
meeting with officials of the National Drug and Cosmetic Devices
Authority. It was pointed out that the Act under which the
Authority was formed did not have provisions to deal with such
products. According to Ministry spokesman a number of samples of
these so-called herbal medicines have already been sent to the
Ayurvedic Medical Laboratory for verification.
The decision though belated is a wise one. Today the market
is flooded with various concoctions claiming miracle cures for
this or that disease. Not only in pharmacies these dubious
herbal medicines are also found in wayside boutiques and in the
possession self appointed vedamahattayas who conduct business in
tiny enclosures. As stated in the news item these herbal
medicines are also widely advertised in the media preying on a
gullible public. The popularity gained by herbal treatment in
recent times have no doubt made unscrupulous elements to cash in
with their home grown concoctions.
These herbal medicines claim to offer cures for a wide range
of ailments from a common headache to impotency while their
contents and composition remains a mystery. What is more, the
offers come with guaranteed cures luring the people to try these
out. One recalls the famous Vadakaha episode during the solar
eclipse in the 50s when dusky women drank the concoction
believing some local oracle who claimed this will give them a
fair complexion, only to have them running helter skelter with
virulent attacks of diarrhoea. Though the present day public may
not be that gullible there is no doubt the alluring
advertisements and the promises of miracle cures is a tempting
prospect for most.
The Minister is planning to add new provisions to the Act to
deal with traders selling unregistered herbal medicines. The Act
should also include clauses governing advertising of these
products. True, this may be an encroachment on free trade and
commercial advertising. But since the matter involves health
risks some way should be found to confront the situation.
The probe also should be extended to cover various Ayurveda
drugs that are in free circulation. One does not know if these
are produced under proper supervision and meet with the required
standards let alone their efficacy. Some of these drugs do not
bear any brand name heightening the risk. Ayurvedic drugs or
concoctions should not be allowed to be marketed haphazardly. As
mentioned these concoctions are easily obtainable by anyone.
There are also potent drugs, stimulants and even intoxicants
being marketed under the Ayurveda brand name which are used by
schoolchildren. The dragnet should be thrown wide to include
other products beside so-called herbal medicines that carry
great health risks to the public.
This is because today there are many compounds, lotions, dyes
and packetted medicines openly sold in the market. It is
doubtful if these medicines have been properly tested or their
efficacy and composition confirmed by qualified medical
practitioners. There are also cosmetics and various beauty
creams with dubious claims that also should be brought under the
microscope. Most of these items carry agents of skin cancer and
various allergies. One recalls the death of a well known local
singer shortly after the application of a hair dye.
The Ministry should also be cautioned on the manner in which
it gets about this task. It should be done in a way that would
not harm the genuine Ayurveda practitioner and efficacious
herbal treatment for which the country is famous for. Today
there are hotels that offer herbal massages as part of the
package that have been extremely popular with tourists. There
are also tried and tested herbal remedies coming down the ages
that are still relied upon by a large segment of the population.
What is paramount is weeding out the imposters and charlatans
while protecting our traditional Ayurveda system and indigenous
forms of treatment. Saying that the Minister should also take
steps to reduce the price of medicinal drugs. It is the high
cost of drugs and other prescriptive medicines that drive the
poor into the hands of the rogue elements marketing their
parallel treatments. Measures should also be taken to monitor
the quality of these drugs that come into the market lest they
be more dangerous and carry risks greater than any herbal
concoction can pose.