Move over Coronil, AP villagers ditch masks, vaccine after ‘miracle drug’, Jagan govt backs it
Herbal concoction by Krishnapatnam resident Anandaiah ‘isn’t Ayurvedic medicine, can’t cure Covid’, say officials. Andhra MLA says govt could restart distribution of the mix.
Krishnapatnam, Nellore: A herbal concoction made in an Andhra Pradesh village has now become such a magic remedy folklore for Covid-19 that the Jagan Reddy government could mass distribute it, the ICMR is apparently set to study it and AYUSH experts have already analysed it, and the Tirupati temple board is ready to produce and distribute it.
What’s more, the villagers are so elated about this concoction that they have thrown out their masks and are planning to say no to vaccines too.
Andhra Pradesh’s tiny Krishnapatnam village, otherwise known for its sea port, shot to fame a week ago, after thousands gathered at the village to get the concoction prepared by local traditional medicine practitioner Bonigi Anandaiah. The ‘eye drop’ has apparently helped many patients with severe Covid symptoms recover, and since late April, it is being administered orally in paste form to those with milder infections and as a preventive measure.
Last week, at least 100 ambulances and vehicles queued up outside the village for at least five kilometres, trying to procure the plant, local people claim. Such was the craze that even patients at the casualty ward in Nellore’s Government General Hospital wanted to take the concoction, according to Joint Collector Harendhira Prasad.
The distribution of the concoction was stopped on 21 May, because of the crowds and the blatant violations of Covid protocols. Anandaiah is under police security now in the village.
Following the chaos, the Andhra Pradesh government constituted an internal committee to check the veracity of the medicine. In a report submitted on 17 May, the District Collector said that Anandaiah is not qualified in Ayurvedic medicine. The ‘eye drops’ may be harmful but the public did not give any negative feedback on the free oral medicine that was being distributed, the report said.
Anandaiah has not been accessible to the media, except for one press conference held two days ago at the residence of Kakani Govardhan Reddy, the YSRCP MLA from Sarvepalli constituency under Tirupati Lok Sabha seat, where Krishnapatnam lies.
“The chief minister has responded positively and acted quickly on the issue; the MLA is also supporting me and has asked me to prepare for a large scale distribution,” Anandaiah said.
However, he added: “It is tough to gather the ingredients, and when I step out, hundreds approach me, asking me for a picture. I cannot do any of it. I trust the government will support me fully and once the report is out, with the help of government, I hope I can start distributing.”
When ThePrint visited Krishnapatnam, 28-year-old Vamshi claimed his brother Rakesh tested positive for Covid two weeks ago, and his condition deteriorated. Private hospitals in Nellore town refused to admit him, and that’s when they got him back to the village, and to Anandaiah.
“My brother’s SPO2 (oxygen saturation) levels dropped to 70. Anandaiah gave ‘eye drops’ and we used it, and he got better in a day. Hospital doctors said his survival was difficult; he had extreme breathlessness. He is just 32 with no co-morbidities. Only the ‘eye drops’ saved him,” Vamshi said.
Fifty-two-year-old Pullayya, meanwhile, claimed that he saw at least 50 people, who were struggling to breathe, get better “within minutes” after taking the eye drops.
There are viral videos of patients, struggling to breathe, fainting on the ground, with their families crying in fear. But when they are given the ‘eye drops’, their condition stabilises and they are able to get up and sit without any support and talk normally.
Once these videos circulated on social media, local residents said there was a five-kilometre-long queue of vehicles waiting to get in and take the ‘medicine’ — some from as far away as neighbouring states Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.
Some residents claimed that 20,000 people came to the village, while Nellore’s Superintendent of Police Bhaskar Bhushan, put the total size of the gathering at 10,000, of which at least 7,000 came from outside and the others were from the village.
Now, the distribution of the concoction has been stopped, and checkpoints have been set up banning non-local residents from entering. Still, at least 10 to 12 people managed to make it in, to try and save their family members in critical care. One of them was Prakash, from Kadapa district, nearly 180 km away, who parked his vehicle four kilometres away and sneaked in through the fields after he was not allowed through the check post.
Villagers swear by it
According to the 2011 Census, the population of the village was 5,686. But hardly 200 vaccine doses have been administered here so far, including the figures for first and second dose. There have been no deaths in the village in either wave of infections, and in the massive countrywide second wave, it has registered just 41 cases, of which only 14 are active. There were 68 cases registered in the first wave.
Almost 85 per cent of the village population, including children as young as five, took the concoction as a preventive and an immunity booster. They now believe there is no need for masks or Covid vaccines.
ThePrint spoke to nearly 80 people of all age groups from the village, and all of them and their families took Anandaiah’s ‘magic medicine’. At least 50 adults, when asked if they’d be interested in taking the vaccines, refused.
“People are testing positive and dying even after they take the vaccine. We are daily wage labourers, and cannot afford to fall sick. Our plant-based medicine is enough for us, it cures Covid,” said 60-year-old Thambi Malkayya.
Makki Mastaniah, 68, was the first person in the village to try Anandaiah’s concoction, when he was infected in the first wave.
“I had heavy breathlessness and was taken to a hospital in Nellore town. My children told me that hospitals demanded Rs 3 lakh and we asked for some time, but they refused admission saying my condition was very critical and I could survive only 24 hours,” he claimed.
Upon taking Anandaiah’s herbal concoction, he recovered and was “normal” in three days, the family claimed.
“I am not going to take any vaccine. If anyone from the government comes home, I will not even respond,” Mastaniah’s daughter Rabiamma said.
“We’re only forced to wear masks because there is a lot of police patrolling now and outsiders are coming into the village. Otherwise, we do not. Once this gets cleared in a week or so, we will stop wearing masks forever. Anandaiah has asked us not to wear it; he himself does not wear it.”
Does it really work?
Following Friday’s chaos, the Jagan Reddy-led state government constituted an internal committee to check the veracity of the medicine.
According to sources from AYUSH department, a few of the ingredients are neem, black pepper, cumin, turmeric and honey.
In his 17 May report, the District Collector dismissed the notion that it is an ‘Ayurvedic medicine’ that can cure Covid, saying that while the ‘eye drops’ could be harmful, there was no negative feedback on the free oral medicine being distributed.
State AYUSH Commissioner Col. V. Ramulu concurred, saying: “We spoke to at least 25 people who consumed the medicine and allegedly recovered, a few of them told us their SPO2 levels were 75 but shot up to 96 after taking those drops. But overall, we are nowhere saying this is a cure for Covid, the ‘medicine’ is not even Ayurveda.”
The Union AYUSH ministry’s Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRA) is now studying the concoction, and its report is awaited.
According to Ramulu, the CCRA will give the herbal concoction to at least 500 people to determine its efficacy. He also said, citing local officials, that the ‘medicine’ could have been administered to 80,000 people in the last few weeks.
The country’s apex medical research body ICMR is also set to study the concoction, according to state Health Minister A. Nani, who said samples of the “herbal medicine” have been sent to the ICMR. But this could not be confirmed, as the ICMR has not commented on this issue at all. State officials had even claimed an ICMR team would visit the village, but none did.
Govt plans mass distribution
Even with its veracity in doubt, the Andhra government is already preparing the ground for mass distribution of the ‘medicine’ once there is clearance from all departments. A network of village volunteers — one for every 50 houses — will be asked to go door-to-door and deliver it, according to MLA Govardhan Reddy.
“We cannot say it is a Covid medicine, but it is curing Covid. Officials spoke to people who recovered after taking the medicine; it even showed the same results as a preventive measure too. So, the government wants to restart distribution of the medicine on a large scale,” he said.
He added there was no doubt medicine was working. “I have also taken it,” he said.
Several opposition leaders have also endorsed the medicine, saying if it cures Covid, why halt the production and distribution?
According to the Chief Minister’s Office, the government is set to take a final decision once the final efficacy reports come in.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
This report has been updated to accurately reflect that the claim of distribution of the concoction was made by the local Andhra MLA, and not the state government. The error is regretted.