Thousands swallow live fish 'cure'

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Thousands of people have flocked to Hyderabad in India to swallow a live fish in the belief that it will cure them of asthma.

Around 40,000 people from across India are expected to attend the live fish swallowing event which is held annually at the Nampally Exhibition Grounds in Hyderabad.

The Bathini Goud family claims that swallowing one of its live murrel fishes (a type of small snakehead) with a special paste stuffed inside its mouth will prevent diseases, such as asthma, if taken each year for three years.

The family last year obtained 45,000 baby snakeheads from the local fisheries department for people to swallow alive during the event. The figure is expected to be higher this year.

The paste which is stuffed into the mouth of the tiny snakeheads is based on a 160-year old secret recipe.

The Indian Medical Association questioned its formulation in 2004 under the Drugs and Magical Remedies Act (1954).

The IMA said that if the family wished to market the paste-stuffed fish as a medicine then they must reveal its formula.

Three academic institutions who studied the "cure" found that it was simply a placebo with no medical value.

In 2006, a petition from the Indian Medical Association led to the Andhra Pradesh High Court, ruling that the family could no longer describe the live fish as "medicine".

The Andhra Pradesh High Court said it would not ban the practice, despite evidence showing that it had no medical value. The family now markets the live fish as a "prasadam" or holy offering.