By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 24, 2022, 12:51

Before beginning to discuss Diclofenac, it is imperative to know more about the vulture population in India.

  • India harbours nine different vulture species.
  • Five of them are from the species Gyps.
  • Among the Gyps species, three of them are critically endangered.

The entire vulture population fell by more than 90% in the mid-1990s. 99% of the three Gyps species had been exterminated by 2007.

The drop in vulture numbers was discovered in the mid-1990s, and the culprit was determined in 2004 as Diclofenac.

What Is Diclofenac?

Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It works by reducing the number of substances in the body that cause inflammation and pain.

In simple words, Diclofenac is a pain reliever. People use it to treat mild to moderate pain and the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

It is available under different brand names like Voltaren, Voveran, Diana, DFO, Cataflam, etc. People also use Voltaren to treat ankylosing spondylitis. Cataflam is used to treat menstruation cramps.

Moreover, migraine headaches are treated with Diclofenac powder (Cambia).

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Diclofenac and Vultures

Diclofenac is the fundamental cause of the drop in the vulture population. This medicine is very harmful to Gyps vultures.

When a vulture feeds on the corpse of livestock that dies shortly after being treated with Diclofenac, the drug enters its body. Also, only 1% of Diclofenac in the body of the livestock would kill the vulture quickly after it eats it.

Moreover, Diclofenac bioaccumulation causes kidney failure and the death of vultures.

Effects of Diclofenac

In 2006, the Indian government issued the first Action Plan for Vulture Conservation. The plan called for immediate conservation measures to protect the three critically endangered species of vultures.

  • In August 2006, the DCGI banned the use of veterinary Diclofenac.
  • In 2008, the prohibition was published in the Indian Gazette and became law.
  • The Government of India recommended meloxicam as an alternative for Diclofenac.

Despite the ban on Diclofenac in veterinary medicine, people continued to use it. Vultures were dying due to Diclofenac toxicity. It happened because people misused the human equivalents of Diclofenac in cattle.

  • To minimize its misuse in livestock treatment, the Government of India issued an Extraordinary Gazette Notification in 2015, limiting Diclofenac vial size to 3ml.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recently released a Vulture Action Plan 2020-25 for protecting vultures in the country.

Vulture Action Plan 2020-25 and Diclofenac

The Vulture Action Plan 2020-25 recommends that:

  • All NSAIDs should be evaluated for safety, and those shown to be harmful to vultures shall be prohibited from use in veterinary medicine.
  • Under the Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1940, NSAIDs, including Diclofenac, are classed as Schedule X medications. Steps must be taken to ensure that they can only be acquired with a veterinarian's prescription, with the pharmacist retaining a copy of the prescription.
  • It shall be ensured that cattle are only treated by qualified veterinarians who follow best practices, such as giving animals approved drug doses.
  • Under a tight regulatory structure, all particularly hazardous NSAIDs, including Diclofenac, shall be promptly prohibited for veterinary use.

Vultures are nature's most efficient scavengers. By cleaning the carcasses before hazardous bacteria and fungi could grow and thrive on them, they prevented epidemics from spreading.

Therefore, Diclofenac, the most common cause of vulture death, must be phased out.

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FAQs on Diclofenac

Q.1. What are the side effects of Diclofenac?

Side effects of Diclofenac include ulcers in the stomach, indigestion, heartburn, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea, etc.

Q.2. Why do people use Diclofenac?

People use Diclofenac as a pain-killer to treat spasms, sprains, and pain in the shoulders, spine, and neck.

Q.3. What are the implications of long-term use of Diclofenac?

Long-term use of Diclofenac might result in stomach bleeding and kidney issues.

Q.4. Is Diclofenac still available in India despite its ban?

Yes. Human formulations of the drug are still available. However, a statement published by the Ministry of Health limits the availability of Diclofenac formulation for human use to single-dose vials of three millilitres.