Trial by fire

The Union Health and Family Welfare ministry finally accepts an Ayurvedic treatment of leukaemia

Published: Saturday 15 August 1998

Vaidya Balendu Prakash with on (Credit: Pradip Saha /CSE)THE Union ministry of health and family welfare (MHFW) has finally acknowledged the utility of Ayurvedic metal-based formulations or rasa shastra in the treatment of a type of cancer, namely acute promyelocytic leukaemia (AML-3). The formulations have been developed by the Dehradun-based Vaidya Chandra Prakash Cancer Research Foundation. For Vaidya Balendu Prakash, the founder of the trust, success - after 14 years - has certainly been worth waiting for.

This is first time that an Ayurvedic physician has agreed to get done scientific validation of his work. The vaidya is still full of unanswered questions. "I do not know the science behind the cure," he admits candidly. "With government support I now hope to get answers like where the metals act, the effect on the bone marrow, what is the correct combination of the medicines that should be administered and finding successful treatments for other types of" leukaemia," he says.

In 1982, his father, also an Ayurvedic practitioner, successfully treated his first patient suffering from AML-3. Since then, five others have been treated by Balendu Prakash. Acceptance from 'modern medicine' has been all but smooth. In October 1997, the MHFW's Central Council of Research in Ayurveda and Siddha sanctioned a Rs 7 lakh-project to study the effect of the treatment on 30 patients. This was to be monitored by a cancer research committee.

Despite efforts at publicising the treatment, the response has been poor. "The response from doctors was even worse," says the Balendu Prakash. "Separate letters were sent to the heads of 62 leading cancer hospitals in the country, requesting them to refer cancer patients for the trial. The only institution that responded was the Christian Medical College, Vellore," he adds.

Only six patients met the criteria set by the research committee: three responded favourably, one died due to meningitis, one disappeared after the first round of treatment, while one had just started treatment at the time of review of the progress on the trials.

Based on clinical observations by qualified allopathic doctors, the success of the treatment has been authenticated. Rajive Kumar, associate professor at the Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital (IRCH), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, who analysed bone marrow and peripheral blood slides, confirmed that the subjects were indeed suffering from AML-3. Three months into the trial, he reported a remarkable improvement after studying blood smear and bone marrow slides. Vinod Kochupillai, head of the IRCH and member of the committee, declared the results as acceptable. None of the patients was suffering from any side effects. Kochupillai promised to recommend the treatment to new patients. The committee decided that the patients be followed up for three years.

"I have yet to receive any patients that have been recommended by Kochupillai," says Balendu Prakash. "I am told he has started allopathic treatment on three new patients. The least that can be done is to make the patients aware of the existence of rasa shastra," he adds.

The reluctance of allopathic doctors to recognise other forms of treatment is difficult to comprehend given the cost of the two treatments and the life span of the patients. "Rasa shastra costs up to Rs 9,000 for a treatment of three months. Allopathy costs Rs 7 lakh to 7.5 lakh per patient. Besides the life span after allopathic treatment is rarely beyond three years," says Balendu Prakash. "In allopathy, the rate of improvement is 50 per cent," Kochupillai acknowledges. Says Balendu Prakash: "I have patients who have been living without any symptoms for more than 12 years now."

Satish Gupta, a builder from New Delhi who is suffering from AML-3, is a happy man. Diagnosed in 1994, he underwent chemotherapy at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. He recovered, but promptly went into relapse in September 1995. The doctors gave him a time of six months to three years. Relying on rasa shastra from the vaidya in September 1995 for 40 days, his blood reports indicate a major improvement, though the platelet count remains low. A bone marrow test in September 1997 indicated improvement. "Physically I feel normal and am able to lead a normal life," he says. Gupta is not one of the patients who participated in the trial.

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