India's Ministry of AYUSH recommended taking an arsenic-based homeopathic substance as a prophylactic medicine against the infection.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, several health organizations have published guidelines on how to prevent the virus' spread. It's usually the common themes: wash your hands, avoid crowded places, use a handkerchief if sneezing. But India's Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy has a different approach.
The ministry, which has often been criticized for its unscientific actions, recommends taking Arsenicum album 30 -- heavily diluted arsenic trioxide -- as homeopathic prophylaxis. They recommend taking the medicine on an empty stomach for three days to protect against the infection.
This advice is not only useless, but it's also dangerous.
The good news is that the arsenic compound (which is toxic in high doses), is very diluted -- so at least, it's not harmful. But that's where the good news ends.
The problem is that it just doesn't work. The principles behind homeopathy have been disproved time and time again, and there is no evidence whatsoever to support any value to this approach. When it comes to Arsenicum album 30 in particular, there's no published evidence supporting its use. The only mention in the scientific literature is a couple of (extremely questionable) studies discussing the use of this "medicine" in treating arsenic poisoning in mice and plants. The fact that a public ministry recommends such unproven, unscientific treatment is very concerning.
Not only does it recommend a useless treatment and elevates pseudoscience, but it also undermines actual science and medicine. It could, for instance, make people forego other, proven treatments, with potentially dangerous consequences. Furthermore, it could create a false sense of security -- making people feel they are safe from the novel coronavirus when, in fact, they are not.
It's not the first time the AYUSH ministry has come under criticism for its promotion of pseudoscience. The ministry was proliferated after the electoral win of Narendra Modi's party in 2014. Its quality of research has been poor, and several times, unproven drugs have been launched on the market. Furthermore, several schemes push rural populations to accept AYUSH-based healthcare, instead of proven, medical healthcare.
There is no credible or scientific basis for most of the AYUSH treatments. It's simply quackery. Several clinical trials were vehemently rejected by major scientific journals, and much of AYUSH research is published in dubious or predatory journals -- without any replicability or reliability.
As a response, AYUSH claims that there is a western conspiracy against homeopathy, without even trying to replicate or confirm its own findings.
At the very least, AYUSH also recommended other (proven) approaches: maintaining personal hygiene, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching face with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.