An ayurvedic researcher's forays against the dreaded AIDS virus unmasks a tale of greed and un-Hippocratian behaviour

Chitra: saved from lingering d Hitahitam sukhant dukhmayustsya hitahitam Manum ch tachh yatroktmayurved sa uchhyate (Ayurveda is the knowledge that indicates the appropriate and inappropriate, happy or sorrowful conditions of living, what is auspicious or inauspicious for longevity, as well as the measure of life itself) - Charaka Samhita 1.41

AYURVEDA, literally, means 'the science of life'. Vedic texts reveal that Ayurveda was in practice before 4000 BC; it has gone through several stages of development since then. Today, it is part of a movement towards a global medicine that incorporates the best developments in the medicines of all lands. A new medical regimen is emerging, largely through a reexamination of older Eastern and traditional medicines of native peoples. "Of all the systems," writes David Frawley in his book Ayurvedic Healing (1994), "Ayurveda is probably the best point of synthesis for such global medicine. It contains the broadest number of healing modalities, It retains much of the language of alchemy, which was a kind of global medical and spiritual tradition in ancient and medieval times."

What can Ayurveda offer to contemporary medicine? What is required today is an intelligent and pragmatic approach to evaluate selected drugs from among the several hundreds of drugs of herbal origin listed in the ayurvedic classics and being used by practising physicians, says G V Satyavati, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, 76 (Suppl), December, 1982. Satyavati believes that it would be worthwhile to direct our research efforts to those traditional drugs which may be of use (a) in combating the so-called 'refractory diseases' (cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc) for which modern medicine has not been able to offer any lasting remedies; and (b) as supplementary remedies for modern chemotherapy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) meeting for the Development of Research Protocols in Priority Areas in Traditional Medicine, held in Varanasi in November 1980, had selected five refractory diseases for clinical trials. In another trial of this type under the ICNIR and WHO - in Coimbatore and Madras - the evaluation of the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment in rheumatoid arthritis, carried out by a group of traditional practitioners, showed encouraging preliminary results. However, the less apparent but equally interesting fundamental principles and concepts of Ayurveda have, unfortunately, not received the attention they deserve from scientists and physicians, says Satyavati.
The case of Majeed's manna If this is true, then just how low the guardians of Indian science are sinking is exemplified in the way the controversy over the ayurvedic cure for AIDS was handled. It all began when a Kerala-based engineer- turned - ayurvedic researcher and managing director of Fair Pharma, T M Majeed, claimed that he had found an ayurvedic cure (Immuno QR) for AIDS. "I collected 23 herbs - four to kill the virus and 19 to improve the immune system - and started testing my medication on generally weak patients with encouraging results. By 1989, 1 felt that my work was over and that this herbal preparation should work on AIDS patients," says Majeed.

In 1989, Majeed went on a futile trip to Togo in Africa - and later to Ghana - in search of a patient with full-blown symptoms. In 1992, newsmagazines in Kerala broke the story of Chitra of Kilimanoor, near Thiruvananthapuram.

Chitra's first marriage to a worker had lasted for only a year, as her husband died of AIDS in 1992. Three days after his death, Chitra delivered a child, Privanka; both mother and daughter were pronounced HIV positive. Majeed's efforts to persuade Chitra to try his miracle cure for the dreaded disease ended in failure initially. However, Majeed was fortunate in finding another HJV positive patient - Baburaj of Kattakkada - who agreed to try the medicine. He started taking it on July 30, 1992, and 15 days later, wrote to Majeed saying he was much better and was gaining weight. This letter was forward- ed to Chitra, who agreed to take the course from September 17, 1992. Baburaj was pronounced negative on October 16, 1992 and Chitra on October 31, 1992.

According to Majeed, neither the Medical College Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram nor the Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, is prepared to check Chitra and certify whether she still is afflicted by the HI,/ virus after her medication with Immuno QR, notwithstanding the fact that the woman has since then regained her lost health and entered into a second marriage.

Till date, Majeed has treated around 3,000 cases and claims a 95 per cent success rate. "On learning about the wonder drug, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) constituted a protocol (No:AID/DEL/D-222) in May 1993 to have an open non-comparative study of the effects of this medicine on patients suffering from AMS. The project director of this (three-month) study was A R Anand, and the coordinator was Rajiv Anand," said Majeed. On June 8, 1993, the ICNIR started testing under principal investigator A K Verma of Delhi's Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and S P Tripathi, former director general Of ICNIR - Majeed's drug on 11 HIV/AIDS patients.

"The patients were examined on the first, 30th, 60th and the 90th days of administering the medicine," says Majeed. "On July 22, 1 was called to Delhi b 'v the director and coordinator of the study and was asked to give them 25 per cent 'partnership' in my firm, Fair Pharma, which makes the AIDS medicine," he adds. They told Majeed they would not publish the results unless they got their "portion of money". Majeed points out that according to the protocol, if the physical fitness of the patients improved above 75 per cent, then the ICMR and WHO were bound to certify the medicine as an effective cure against the disease.

"I agreed to pay Rs 1.5 crore to A R Anand as 'consultation fee' for preparing suitable protocols and involving various medical personnel and arranging suitable interaction from time to time for the progress of the trials in a systematic way," Majeed says. An agreement was signed to this effect and Majeed claims to have sent five cheques of Rs 30 lakh each (cheque nos: 7041630, 7041631, 7041632, 7041633 and 7041634 of the Union Bank of India) to A R Anand's address.

After collecting the checlucs for Rs 1.5 crore, Anand is said to have asked Majeed to contact Tripathi in Delhi. Apprehending a demand for more money, the harassed ayurvedic researcher did not meet Tripathi, and the results to the tests continue to be withheld; according to Majeed, the study was over on September 7, 1993.

Anand refutes all the charges, saying that his actions were according to the terms and conditions stated in the agreement. He has filed a defamation suit on Majeed. Lalit Kant, deputv director-general, and Q Saxena, assistant deputy director-general at the ICMR's division of epidemiology and communicable diseases vehementIv deny the existence of a protocol between ICMR and Majeed. "ELISA tests were done on eight patients, only to help Anand. In fact, we do not even know which drug was administered to the patients. The council never had any financial or administrative dealing with either Ariand or Majeed. Majeed has never approached us directly", they say.

But Majeed insists that he has more evidence to support him: "On September 24, 1993, when the All India Radio, Delhi, brought out a half-an-hour programme on'The Challenge of AIDS', where Tripathi clearly stated that the ICMR is conducting studies on my medicine." The WHO has already expressed satisfaction over Majeed's creation. But Majeed fears that the allopathy lobby does not want a medicine on AIDS. "It is a US $ 3 billion a year business for them," says Majeed.

"People from all over the world have come to see me. The maximum retail selling price for the drug abroad will be us $800," says Majeed. The price per course of 100 days is Rs 8,400. Immuno QR has been licensed to manufacture and sell in India, but has not been patented as yet. Majeed is an unhappy man today. He says, "ICMR has not done anything. In fact, now they are even denying the protocol and tests. The state of affairs at the WHO is more deplorable. The tests of ICMR were well known to them. They have published the results in their bulletin from Delhi in Julv-August 1993. Now they keep sending me legal notices from Geneva and Delhi, with the sole intention of killing my medicine. The billion dollars they get for research, for advice and awareness and by way of testing, makes them resist my Immuno QR."

Kin Shein, regional advisor, Essential Drugs, WHO, New Delhi, feels that Majeed must authenticate his findings, present them in an international forum or publish them in the WHO's journals. Majeed has established contacts with George Essaey of California, a herbal therapist, who has tried the drug on 40 patients in US in the last two years. On February 8, 1995, the Washington State University Radio gave Majeed 75 minutes for a talk show on his manna for the dying. Majeed thinks that this medicine can also contribute to solving the balance of payment problem for India: "Ginseng (traditional herbal stimulant and tonic) earns for South Korea 40 per cent of its total foreign exchange. If I am forced to give my know-how to any multinational company abroad, the Indian government will have to raise billions of dollars to import this medicine."

Who takes the rap?
"At the ICMR, 11 says a source close to the Central Council of Research in Ayurveda, "jealousy between systems is usual; that is the main problem with the Council. They cannot tolerate the fact that some other system is getting the credit for discovering a drug." The case of Pippliyadiyoga (an oral anti-fertility drug) - rejected by the 'modern lobby' three to four times - is a pointer.

The need of the hour is research by dedicated people trained in modern medicine, with strong basic knowledge of Avurveda. To its credit, the government has not ignored this area completely. A department of alternative medicine is operating from Delhi's Safdarjung hospital. The government is also setting up a wing for indigenous systems of medicine in Delhi.

P M Bhargava, director, department of biotechnology of the Government of India, blames the nation's somnolent science lobby as well as the government. He is sceptical of Majeed's claim: "Has Majeed tested his drug, and if so where has he tested it? I n 1993, 1 requested the government to set Up a commission on AIDS. But to date, nothing has happened. I blame our scientists for this poor performance. Actually, the government has never been pressurised by scientists."

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