Doctors say fish and herb asthma cure is too hard to swallow
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
Swallowing a wriggling live fish, no matter how tiny, is quite a feat. But around half a million asthma sufferers in India are trying it over the next few days, convinced that a combination of live fish and special herbs will cure them.
The Bathini Goud family in the southern city of Hyderabad has been administering this unusual remedy at this time of the year - free of charge - for at least 100 years. They say they received the special formula from a Hindu saint but refuse to reveal what goes into the yellowish substance that they place on the fish.
The family says it fears that others might exploit it and argue that the remedy would lose its potency if commercialised.
Asthma patients must swallow the live fish - a murrel or sardine - along with the paste. Parents who take their young asthmatic children to Hyderabad have a difficult time, as the kids resist swallowing the fish with all their might.
The Gouds say the wriggling fish helps clear the accumulated phlegm in the throat. However, a single trip to Hyderabad does not suffice. The family says asthmatics have to take the fish medicine for three to five consecutive years to reap the benefits.
After the fish ritual, patients have to go on a strict 45-day diet of 25 different foods, including lamb, rice, sugar, dried mango, spinach and clarified butter.
'If all the instructions are carefully followed, we can guarantee a 100 per cent cure for any patient. It doesn't matter how chronic the asthma is,' said Harinath Goud.
Special trains and buses have been hired from across India to bring believers to Hyderabad. Some patients even travel from overseas.
Nearly 200 family members and volunteers are administering the fish and about 5,000 police officers are controlling the huge crowds.
Doctors are sceptical, though. New Delhi chest specialist, S. Arya, says it cannot help. 'There is absolutely no clinical evidence to prove it works ... This acts more as a psychological than a clinical cure. There can be some temporary relief.'