Giving Viagra a hard time

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An Ayurvedic drug that claims to cure infertility and impotency is giving the blue pill a run for its money. Manav Chopra  explains its rising demand

KC ABRAHAM is on a high these days. His Kerala-based firm Kunnath Pharmaceuticals, which makes Musli Power Extra, has cornered 10 percent of the infertility and impotency cure market.

Since 2005, when it was launched, it has created a USP that may be robbing Viagra of its first-comer advantage. For unlike it, Musli, which is made from nine herbs, has no side-effects. And while Viagra and other generic drugs produced by major drug companies cure only erectile dysfunction, Musli also claims to strengthen the body’s immune system. What’s more, being unisex it has a much larger client base to tap.

Musli’s makers are believed to have posted a 300 percent yearly growth since they hit the market, with sales totalling Rs 50 crore in the Rs 500 crore market. Even 80-year-olds are said to be among its users. (In India, about 60 percent adults suffer from partial impotency and 20 percent have infertility complaints.)

Musli Power has a captive market among the huge section of Indians, who not only have blind faith in Ayurveda’s efficacy to cure all manner of ailments, but are also convinced that allopathic drugs are harmful in the long haul.

Kunnath Pharmaceuticals says it came upon this ancient remedy after studying the life of tribals, who have lots of children and consume Safed Musli (the active ingredient of the drug). Says Abraham: “Treating infertility using traditional Ayurveda took a long time because the herbs were processed traditionally. Yet, because we use modern technology the compound is quite potent and the results are quick and long-lasting. Over 15 to 20 other herbal products have surfaced and disappeared since our launch.”

Abraham’s factories were nonetheless raided on suspicion that the natural product was being adulterated with chemicals to produce a Viagra-like effect. In the end, the firm was cleared of any wrongdoing.

But according to sexologists from the allopathic stream, like all Ayurveda drugs this one too is a mere placebo. Says Dr Prakash Kothari, a founding adviser of the World Association for Sexual Health: “I have treated over 14,000 patients aged between 14 and 90 years with Viagra.” He says he holds Ayurveda in high regard, but that over the counter Ayurvedic drugs do not work.

However, criticism from various quarters has not dented the sales of Musli Power Extra, which is also exported to West Asian countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai, and has found ready buyers in 70 other countries, both in the West and Europe. Price-wise at least, Musli Power fares far better than Viagra: Rs 750 for 30 capsules; Rs 1,400 for 60 capsules; and Rs 2,000 for 90 capsules. The company though, recommends the full course of 90 tablets for long lasting effect. Viagra is considerably more expensive, costing Rs 490 for a one-time use 50mg tablet. Local generics like ErectiMax, Ranbaxy’s Caverta, Cipla’s Suhagra, Mankind Pharma’s Manforce and Zydus Alidac’s Penegra cost anywhere between Rs 50 and Rs 90 for two tablets.

Dr Kothari, however, dismisses the entire exercise as “exploitation of the desperate by the ignorant.”

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