13 August 2010
By Sumitra Deb Roy
The medicine department of the hospital has been studying the potency of an ayurvedic drug on 700 HIV patients since April last year. After little more than a year, the institute found a significant boost in the count of CD4 cells in these patients, and also that it could probably push the initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART), known to have many side–effects, by a few years.
The count of CD4 cells is directly proportional to the health of a person as these cells are the most important part of one’s immune system. Anyone with less CD4 count is more prone to ailments as the body’s defence mechanism starts giving way. The ART for HIV patients is started only after the CD4 count falls below 250.
After administering the ayurvedic drug, the doctors found that the CD4 count in patients on an average went up from 448 to 546 within six months and up to 590 in a year’s time. Besides, many patients had weight gains, increase in haemoglobin count and a sense of well–being.
Claiming that it holds promise, head of medicine at KEM Hospital Dr A R Pazare said that not every patient who tests positive for HIV immediately qualifies for the ART. "Till a patient’s CD4 count comes down to 250, we cannot prescribe ART," he said. Moreover, ART has side–effects like pain in abdomen, weakening of limbs and arms, swollen abdomen and distortion of facial features.
Therefore, Pazare believes that patients could be prescribed ayurvedic drugs with immuno–restorative properties that can delay the initiation of ART. "Our assumption is that ayurvedic drugs with properties to strengthen immunity can delay the ART therapy by at least four years," said Pazare. "And later, as the patient is put on ART, he can survive for a few more decades," he added. The KEM hospital study will be on for the next five years.
However, the study solely focused on CD4 cells and did not check if the drug could bring down the viral load in a patient. Another hitch remains that ayurvedic drugs cannot be consumed simultaneously with ART drugs.
Head of ART department of JJ Hospital Dr Alaka Deshpande said, "More studies are required as there is no standardised data that talks about long–term effects," she said. Yet, she added that it may not be a bad idea to put patients on ayurvedic medicines with proven benefits till they are ideal candidates for ART.