Tall Covid claims need to be reined in

| Updated on June 26, 2020 Published on June 26, 2020

Pharma, consumer product companies are in a race to capitalise on Covid fears

With Covid numbers rising every day, consumer product and pharma companies are wasting no time in capitalising on the business opportunity arising from the fear engendered by this pandemic. Patanjali Ayurved became mired in controversy this week after announcing the launch of its Ayurvedic ‘clinically controlled, research, evidence and trial-based’ medicine for Covid-19. Following its claim that 100 per cent of patients who were administered the medicine recovered within seven days, the Ministry of Ayush hastily intervened to ask it to refrain from such claims before it could verify them. The Ministry may haul up Patanjali for not keeping it in the loop before launch, but it is a moot point if it can verify or disprove Patanjali’s claims. After all, its official notification on April 21 urging ‘serious efforts’ by Ayush organisations to develop Covid drugs admitted that there were no specific provisions for conduct of clinical trials for Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and homeopathy drugs, under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules. It asked firms undertaking Covid research to seek approvals from scientific bodies and ethics committees, register with the Clinical Trials Registry and statistically justify their sample size, without laying down any specific protocol.

But it is not just with alternative medicines that regulatory protections to consumers from tall Covid-related claims are quite weak. The DGCI’s fast-track approval to Glenmark’s Fabiflu (Favipiravir) for Covid treatment has also been criticised for not providing any scientific rationale or peer-reviewed research supporting the decision. While pharma majors appear keen to repurpose their older influenza or anti-viral drugs as Covid treatments with expensive price tags, FMCG majors are not far behind in vesting even their most mundane products with anti-viral properties. Advertisements for leading brands of soaps, hand-washes and toothpastes today vouch for their virus-killing ability while household cleaners and disinfectants profess to be 99 per cent effective against Covid, with little evidence backing such claims. Entirely new categories have sprung up,, from immunity-boosting bread and milk to Covid-resistant mattresses, in blatant disregard of the NDMA’s March directive making dubious Covid claims a punishable offence.

So far, the Advertising Standards Council of India has been quite proactive in identifying misleading advertisements to force them off air. But this isn’t enough to deter product launches that are prima facie detrimental to consumers. The Covid situation is a good opportunity for the newly anointed Central Consumer Protection Authority set up under the Consumer Protection Act in 2019, to flex its muscles by taking suo motu cognisance of misleading product launches and claims, to nip this trend in the bud.

Published on June 26, 2020
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