Thousands of asthma sufferers from all across India descended on Andhra Pradesh state on Saturday 8 June to await their dose of a controversial herbal medicine, which is taken along with a live small fish.

The herbal medicine, whose ingredients have been kept secret for centuries, is being distributed over the weekend by the Bathini Goud family, across 32 special counters at a large exhibition ground.

The family, which administers the yellow paste-like medicine to patients free of charge, claims that taking the medicine for three consecutive years can cure asthma.

Before distributing the medicine, the Goud family performs set rituals.

Though the medicine is considered more effective when taken with a live fish, vegetarian patients take it with jaggery, or unrefined sugar.

Thousands of people attend the medical giveaway each year, even though the treatment is not proven to be effective.

"I have come here for the second time. It has given some relief and I hope it will cure the problem," said Ramakrishna Reddy, a patient from Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, according to a report in First Post.

The Goud family claims the recipe for the herbal medicine comes to them from an ancestor who received it from a saint in the year 1845 and made him promise to administer it free of charge.

Some groups claim that the family's claims are unscientific and superstitious, and laboratory tests have failed to prove its efficacy, though the medicine is not harmful either.

According to officials from the fisheries department, 50,000 live fishes have been supplied for the event.

The family claims to have been distributing the medicine for 160 years, and the event has grown in popularity with each passing year.

In 1997, the state government asked the family to stop distributing the treatment from their ancestral home, and move to a larger area.

Last year's event took place on the outskirts of the city, but was marred by a stampede that left one dead and many others injured.