Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi, Sept. 24

FOLLOWING the warnings issued by health regulators in the UK and Canada, the Health Ministry is putting in place basic parameters for companies manufacturing ayurvedic and unani products.

It is planning to set heavy metal limits for these products. The presence of heavy metals in certain ayurvedic products had led Health Canada and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK to advise consumers not to use them. They had said that many of the products might contain mercury and arsenic, and cause severe nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Health Ministry officials said, "The main concern of the foreign regulators is the harmful effects of heavy metals. We felt that this needs to be checked."

Some of the products that had come under the scanner were Zandu Pharmaceuticals' Maha Sudharshan Churna Powder, Yograj Guggul tablets and Sudarshan tablets; Dabur India's Maha Sudharshan Churna and Shilajit capsules; Karela Capsules manufactured by Himalaya Drug Company; and Safi Liquid from Hamdard Wakf-India.

Besides this, the Health Ministry is also focusing on improving the manufacturing standards for ayurvedic products. "The manufacturing facilities would have to be GMP- (Good Manufacturing Practices) compliant, though this has been notified in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

Action would be taken against those companies, which do not have the systems in place," the officials said.

Also, the Government is planning to make labelling of the ingredients mandatory. "Companies will have to list out all the inputs, including the metals present," they added. The Government has also initiated a Golden Triangle Project in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for the scientific validation of existing ayurvedic, siddha and unani drugs, and the development of new drugs.

The Union Health Minister, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, said that the Government would spend Rs 120 crore on the project. According to the Ayurvedic Drug Manufacturers' Association, the globalisation of the Indian system of medicine and health would easily generate Rs 10,000 crore every year.

While the current market for ayurvedic drugs is worth Rs 5,000 crore, more than 90 per cent of this industry comprises over 6,500 small-scale players. The Health Minister said that a traditional knowledge digital library would be set up for listing formulations available in the ancient scriptures and other sources.

When spoken to earlier, companies Dabur and Himalaya had said that they had conducted independent research that proved the safety of their products.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 25, 2005)
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