Health officials in India have warned against using cow dung as a treatment for Covid-19 amid reports people had taken to smearing the manure on their faces and body and even consuming potions made from the matter, especially in rural parts of the country.
With the second wave of pandemic ravaging India, widespread claims of possible treatments from cow products have forced medics of the country’s biggest doctor’s association, the Indian Medical Association, to warn people of the “health risks” of contracting other diseases.
"There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against Covid-19, it is based entirely on belief,” Dr JA Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association told Reuters.
"There are also health risks involved in smearing or consuming these products – other diseases can spread from the animal to humans."
One Covid-19 isolation centre designated for treatment from cow products is being run in a village of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
The unit is being run in a cow shelter that has over 5,000 cows managed by a trust Rajaram Gaushala Ashram at Tetoda village, reported the Deccan Herald. The site, called the Vedalakshana Panchagavya Ayurvedic Covid Isolation Centre, is treating patients with medicines made of cow urine, dung, milk, ghee (butter) and curd.
But the treatment with cow products is optional for patients in the 100-bed facility, who also have professional doctors and nurses for conventional medicine.
As the explosion of Covid cases in the second wave of coronavirus swept India, the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came under a torrent of criticism for the handling of pandemic. It also faced questions over its communication strategy by promoting pseudoscience and alternative medicine.
The country’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, on 13 April pulled up officials for a delay in approval and funding of projects to validate the usefulness of cow products under an inter-ministerial funding programme.
It was the same period when India was reporting close to 200,000 daily cases as the health minister asked the process to be fast-tracked for Mr Modi’s speech on the 75th Independence Day, 15 August, reported digital news outlet The Print.
Srinivas Rajkumar, former general secretary of Resident’s Doctors Association of Aiims, Delhi, told The Independent that the health ministry’s promotion of Coronil – a medicine touted as cure of Covid by yoga guru Baba Ramdev – led to mixed messaging and tainted the trust in vaccines.
The beliefs of medicinal benefits from cow products stem from the fact that the cow is considered sacred in Hinduism and revered as the mother of all gods. For centuries cow dung has been used as a natural disinfectant in houses.
Dr Dnyaneshwar Dhobale Pati, president of the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors, told The Independent that smearing cow dung on the body risked causing infections and triggering allergies as numerous microorganisms are present in the matter.
“It is cow faeces at the end of the day and has many microorganism which can enter the body. Its excess usage can also aggravate pneumonia. There is no scientific evidence of its medicinal usage.”
Nandita Iyer, a doctor and author, tweeted: “Cow dung or cow urine may be good as natural plant fertilisers, but definitely have no role in the prevention or treatment of Covid19. It’s ridiculous that this is having to be said, but every few weeks there’s someone promoting this shit.”
At the beginning of pandemic in March last year, Hindu activists of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Union) group hosted a cow urine-drinking party in the heart of national capital Delhi. Several people drank cow urine and bathed in cow dung at the event, making international headlines.
India has been hit with more than 22.66 million cases and 246,116 deaths reported so far after adding more than 400,000 infections for days. The country’s fresh cases fell to 329,942 on Monday for the first time in days. But experts say the infections and deaths could be undercounted.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies