Poor turnout for traditional fish medicine for asthma

June 8th, 2008 - 3:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, June 8 (IANS) Hundreds of asthma patients from different parts of India took the traditional fish herbal drug but the numbers have drastically come down this year. The Bathini Goud family, which has been administering the herbal drug with fish free of cost for over 160 years, continued distribution of the medicine since Saturday night at Exhibition Grounds in the heart of the city.

About 300 members of the family gave the medicine through the night and this exercise is expected to continue till Sunday night.

The ‘prasadam’ is administered on the occasion of ‘Mrigasira Karti’, which heralds the onset of monsoon. It started at 7.32 p.m. Saturday, the time decided by astrologers.

The Bathini family performed traditional prayers at their ancestral house in Doodhbowli before the event.

State BJP president Bandaru Dattatreya and Secunderabad MP Anjan Kumar Yadav were among the first to take the medicine.

However, the turnout has drastically come down as the medicine is losing its popularity with every passing year due to controversies surrounding its ingredients.

Few hundred people were standing in queues at midnight and the officials of the fisheries department said they sold a little above 5,000 fingerlings. Not more than 20,000 people took the medicine till 8 a.m. Sunday.

A yellow herbal paste, the ingredients of which have remained a family secret, is first put into a live three centimetre-long murrel fish and is then slipped down the throat of the patient.

If taken for three successive years, the medicine is believed to cure asthma.

The family claims that in 1845, a holy man passed on the formula for the miracle medicine to their great-great-grandfather Veranna Goud, a toddy tapper, on the promise that he would distribute it free of cost and will never reveal the ingredients of the medicine to others.

Over the last few years, the number of asthma patients came down due to a campaign by physicians and rationalists, who termed it an ‘unscientific’ drug and asked the family to reveal the contents of the herbal paste.

The family, however, turned down the demand on the ground that the medicine would lose its efficacy. Following the controversy, the Goud family renamed the event as ‘fish prasadam’ four years ago and said those having faith in the medicine would continue to take it.

Since the government came in for criticism from different quarters for promoting the ‘unscientific’ drug, Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy and his cabinet colleagues stopped visiting the camp. It was during the tenure of former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (1995-2004) that the medicine got huge popularity with the government’s patronage.

Naidu had convinced the family in 1996 to shift the venue from narrow lanes around their house to an open ground.

Last year, the fisheries department had sold 50,000 fingerlings, contrary to claims by the family that over half a million people take the medicine every year.

Though the event has become more organised with the administration issuing tokens to avoid overcrowding, the campaign against the fish medicine has had its impact.

When asked about the poor response, Harinath Goud said the shutdown called by opposition parties against hike in petroleum prices Friday affected the turnout. He said the numbers also came down due to bomb blasts in the city last year.

He claimed that the negative campaigning by Jana Vignan Vedika, a group of rationalists, and Indian Medical Association (IMA) did not have any impact as people had faith in the ‘prasadam’.

It is this faith and hope which draw asthma patients to the event every year. With no cure available to their nagging respiratory problem, they look for relief, at least temporarily.

“There was some relief when I took the medicine four years ago. I have come back with the same hope,” said Azmatha, a house wife, who came from Guntur town in Andhra Pradesh along with her husband Abdul Rasheed.

“I heard from others that the medicine works and I wanted to try. Let us see whether it will give some relief,” said T. N. Paswan, a farmer from Bihar, who has been suffering from asthma for five years.

For some the event is more like an annual fair. Gajanand and Datta, two friends from Nanded in Maharashtra, just wanted to try the medicine out of curiosity. “We have been told that taking the fish medicine by even those who are not suffering from asthma helps prevent respiratory problems,” said Gajanand. Datta added that it was more of a sight-seeing visit to the historic city.

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