Practitioners of siddha -- a traditional system of medicine, which originated in Tamil Nadu and uses metals such as iron, zinc, copper, gold and silver in treatment -- assert their therapeutic knowledge could fruitfully tackle AIDS. But medical and paramedical voluntary workers involved in AIDS relief programmes funded by the Tamil Nadu government are upset with siddha practitioners for making premature claims to success.
The siddha announcement on treating AIDS was made by N Kumaradas, chairman of the Indian Medical Practitioners' Cooperative Pharmacy and Stores (IMPCOPS). The organisation claims membership of more than 12,000 practitioners of traditional Indian medical systems.
Earlier this year, IMPCOPS announced a project treating 12 HIV-infected persons using traditional medicines. Barely a month later, Kumaradas was quoted in vernacular papers as saying that 7 of the 12 patients had responded favourably to siddha treatment. "These patients had gained weight by one to two kilos," said Kumaradas, contending this was an assured indicator of their return to good health.
Kumaradas' announcement led AIDS-treating allopathic doctors and researchers being inundated with enquiries. S Sundararaman of the AIDS Research Foundation of India says, "Many of my patients have repeatedly begun asking me whether they should opt for siddha." One month, adds an irate Sundararaman, is too short a time to test the efficacy of any medicinal system against the AIDS virus. Other experts also refuse to accept Kumaradas' contention that mere weight gain is a sign of success. They demand other, more realistic indicators, such as the changes in the HIV virus and in the blood cells of AIDS patients being treated. Tamil Nadu ranks second in India in terms of AIDS incidence, after Maharashtra.
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