As befits a Sunday morning, an otherwise busy lane in a tony south Delhi locality is visibly empty. Except for a single nondescript building, outside which a few citizens are basking in the winter sunshine, peeping inside through its glass-panelled door at periodic intervals.
As minutes make way to hours, cars arrive and park and drive away adding to previous automobiles. New sets of restless faces replace the old ones as visitors enter and leave. The waiting lounge is scattered with 20-odd wrought-iron chairs, mostly occupied, with patients who have travelled from all corners of the city.
The building is where a branch of the legendary Arya Vaidya Sala (AVS) Kottakkal operates where with clockwork precision two Ayurvedic physicians are listening to long tales of woes and prescribing medicines, to be purchased from the adjoining counter.
"This is my first visit here and I am looking for a cure for my skin allergy," says Amardeep Singh, a 42-year-old man from Gurugram. Ayurveda isn’t the only alternative medicine worth swearing by.
A 44-year-old HIV positive Andhra woman was saved by Amrita Hospital doctors in November 2019 using their integrated medical approach that combines Western medicines with Ayurveda.
A 42-yeer-old electrical engineer from Chennai was able to walk after Siddha Vaman therapy healed his fracture without surgical intervention. A yoga guru was relieved of chronic pain that put her in a wheelchair in her teens by the great yoga exponent BKS Iyengar. An Air India captain, who would’ve lost his job because of fading vision, was cured by acupuncture. Twenty years after treatment, he is still flying.
A 65-year-old stroke patient on ventilator was revived by homoeopathic medication. After lengthy rehabilitation, he leads an independent life now. Unani cured a 32-year-old salesman from Hazratganj, Munger, Bihar, of a chronic liver condition after daily Pan IV injections failed. Not a single death occurred and not one health professional was infected at the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) in Delhi, which was turned into a COVID-19 treatment facility.
COVID DOES A FAVOUR
The nearly year-long coronavirus contagion, its vast death toll and confusing data flows have exposed the limitations of modern medicine. No one diagnosis is effective. Symptoms are too inconsistent to get a fix on the disease. The vaccine shopping list has too many choices but most of the information about their development is cloaked in secrecy; the side effects are not fully known.
There is no drug yet to counter the virus, only experimental cocktails. Never before has the spotlight fallen more on the efficacy of non-Western medicines, or Alternative Medicines as native healing systems are called, than during the pandemic. "Exports of Ayurvedic medicines have gone up by three to four times post the outbreak of COVID-19," Vaidya Devendra Triguna, president, All India Ayurvedic Congress, and president, National Academy of Ayurveda claims.
Because of its historical associations, India is a melting pot of medical knowledge. The Greeks brought Unani medicine. The Chinese introduced acupuncture. The Tibetans came with their Himalayan cures. The Germans brought Homoeopathy.
India itself had Yoga, Ayurveda and Siddha that include natural medicines and astrology. Health institutions across the world are now placing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the ambit of science.
According to Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH, the fight against COVID-19 is at full throttle to generate "tangible evidence to develop confidence among global and national scientific community".
The ministry has so far documented the impact through the Sanjivani mobile app among 1.47 crore people. "Almost 85.1 percent respondents have reported use of an AYUSH remedy as prophylaxis/treatment of COVID-19. Of that, 89.8 percent reported benefits from the practice of AYUSH advisory and 79.1 percent reported overall good health," Kotecha clarifies.
The COVID-19 facility at the AIIA in Delhi had close to 170 patients who were treated according to strict AYUSH COVID-19 protocols. Triguna explains that Ayurvedic medicines are best for lifestyle disorders, liver and kidney issues, spondylosis, digestion issues, rheumatism, and arthritis, to name a few.
Homeopathy physicians warn that research around Covid is still new. “These drugs are prescribed based on the experience of the practitioners and their understanding of the disease at that time. Follow-up research is required and robust data regarding these medicines is not yet available,” cautions Dr Kushal Banerjee of Dr. Kalyan Banerjee's Clinic, Delhi.
India is making strong strides in the traditional medicine sector both at organisational levels and popular acceptance. Last week, Stanford University released its global list of top 2 percent scientists, which included three Indian alternative medical practitioners—two yoga therapists and one homoeopathic physician.
"It’s our continuous research and publication in peer-reviewed journals that aided us to achieve this feat," says HR Nagendra, yoga therapist, author and founder of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana in Bengaluru and one of the scientists named in the list.
He is also Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s yoga consultant. Ayurveda and Yoga share a deep synthesis since ancient times. Modi’s messianic passion and India's greatest health export, yoga is practiced by 200 million Indians.
Nivedita Joshi, who heads the Iyengar Yogakshema in Delhi, recalls, "I was bedridden when I was 15 and the doctors had suggested surgery. No amount of physiotherapy could relieve me of the pain. Guruji diagnosed my problem without even looking at my reports. He improvised postures for me using props and I slowly rebuilt my strength." She conducts both regular and medical yoga sessions.
Shockingly, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) alleged that ayurvedic doctors practicing modern medicine were quacks. In spite of jeers and objections of the medical industry, the government has gone ahead and given permission to postgraduate Ayurvedic doctors to conduct 58 kinds of surgeries.
IMA’s Anti-Quackery Wing had targeted Ayurveda with a compendium of court orders and various rules and regulations "to acquaint doctors regarding specific provisions and orders barring quackery by unqualified people, practitioners of Indian and Integrated Medicine to practice Modern Medicine".
"Surgical practice exists in Ayurveda. We only streamlined it," explains Vaidya Jayant Deopujari, chairperson, Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM), the regulatory body which looks after educational reforms in Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Sowa Rigpa.
Yoga and Homoeopathy have different councils. In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) promised to establish a Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in India. The announcement came close on the heels of news reports around NITI Aayog forming four committees to examine integration of the various systems of medicine.
There are reports about the NDA government’s plans to roll out a 'One Nation, One Health System' policy by 2030, which would integrate modern and traditional systems of medical education. "Many ailments that have no cure in Western medicine meet their match in alternative medicine," says Dr Raman Kapur, chairperson of Department of Acupuncture at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, "Chronic pancreatitis has no cure in Western medicine but acupuncture helps."
SIDDHA'S SHOT IN THE ARM
Last month, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar held a virtual press conference to announce the benefits of Kabasura Kudineer, a classical Siddha formulation, in the fight against COVID-19. His company, Tattva, created it in tablet form, which was tested by the reputed Germany-based Frankfurt Innovation Centre for Biotechnology.
Tattva claims the drug has strong immunity boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits against the coronavirus. "To get global recognition, we should standardise our classical formulations and provide scientific evidence about them," was the spiritual leader’s message.
Kabasura Kudineer is a well-known Siddha churnam that contains 15 herbal ingredients - ginger, piper longum (pippali), clove, dusparsha, akarakarabha, kokilaksha root, haritaki, Malabar nuta, ajwain, kusta, guduchi, bharangi, kalamegha, Raja pata, musta, which are powdered and mixed in water.
The Tamil Nadu government distributed it to about four crore people as part of its anti-COVID drive. Nearly 30,000 asymptomatic and mild symptomatic patients were treated exclusively with Siddha treatment in 33 standalone special COVID-care centres.
Siddha is good for musculo-skeletal conditions where a physical manipulation therapy is used for pain relief. "We have special medicines for chronic skin diseases and management of non-communicable diseases," Dr K Kanakavalli, director general, Central Council for Research in Siddha (CCRS) discloses.
The traditional medicine bonanza has caused embarrassments too. The enterprising Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved launched Coronil as a COVID-19 cure in July. The Ministry of AYUSH promptly asked Patanjali to stop advertising it as a cure.
"We’re serious about malpractices and false advertisements in AYUSH systems on any platform. There is a robust mechanism in place to address the same. A notification in order to control misleading advertisements or claims around COVID-19 treatment was released in April. We have started a dedicated COVID-19 dashboard to provide real-time information about our activities," Kotecha says.
PLURALISM IS THE PRESCRIPTION
t Amrita Hospital, a famed integrated medicine hospital in Kochi, Kerala, the post-COVID care clinic is in high demand. "Earlier this centre opened twice a week. Owing to the rush we are going to extend its working to five days a week," says Dr Baburao Narayanam, senior medical admistrator and deputy medical superintendent.
The hospital plans to open an integrated 2,000-bed unit in Faridabad near Delhi by the end of 2021. "We offer both traditional and modern treatments. People are increasingly considering the combination to get the best results," he adds.
In 2018, the government announced Ayurveda units in 19 new upcoming AIIMS. NIMHANS in Bengaluru has started an integrative medicine unit that offers simultaneous yoga, ayurvedic and psychiatric treatments. Dr VM Katoch, former director general of ICMR and former secretary, Department of Health Research, argues, "I'm a strong supporter of integrative medicine. If something is evidence-based and has been around for centuries, then why won’t it be valuable?"
He chaired the inter-disciplinary committee for integration of Ayurveda and Yoga interventions in ‘National Clinical Management protocol: COVID-19'.
He cites examples of how Ayurveda and homoeopathy help to contain the side-effects of chemotheraphy and radiotherapy in cancer patients. "Homoeopathy works well in treating auto-immune disorders. Ayurveda benefits patients with lifestyle problems. Why can’t two well-known standard interventions be carried out together in all our hospitals?" he queries.
The Uttar Pradesh government has announced new hospitals of integrated medicine. Through the National AYUSH Mission (NAM), the Centre supports states which wish to establish up to 50-bed integrated AYUSH hospitals.
Jiva Ayurveda founder Dr Partap Chauhan predicts the future belongs to integrative medicine. A woman disagnosed with HIV a few months ago found that modern medicines offered little to bring her CD4 count (as one of the prognostic indicators) to normal.
She visited Amrita Hospital in November 2019 and opted for an integrated medical approach. Along with Western medicines, she was given Ayurveda treatment. In four months, her CD4 count came down close to normal.
"She is currently following maintenance treatment with us, while both modern and Ayurveda treatments are on," says Narayanam. Lots of patients from the West are coming for integrated medicine therapy for chronic joint disorders.
"People abroad are more accepting of different skill sets. A European cardiologist, a Japanese oncologist and an eye doctor from Luxemborg are working together with me. They turn to explore ayurvedic options when they hit an obstacle in their research or treatment. An ENT specialist from London is working with me on nasal allergies. Both conventional and ancient systems have to accept each other’s strengths," Dr Chauhan proposes.
Such synergy is hailed by practitioners across the AYUSH spectrum. “Today, for example, Orthopedicians know that Arnica and Symphytum are homeopathic medicines which help in the healing of fractures. Nephrologists in India are aware that Berberis V is beneficial in treating kidney stones. Many such synergies exist, which simply needs to be formalised and taken head,” feels Dr Banerjee.
Siddha and Unani are making their presence felt in Delhi. Last year, the Ministry of AYUSH started Unani and Siddha centres in Safdarjung Hospital. The Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine, under AYUSH, runs Unani centres in Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. The ministry’s research portal has catalogued 30,016 studies so far.
"In PubMed (leading repository of peer-reviewed biomedical literature maintained by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information) library can be found over 200 good quality RCTs (randomised controlled trials) in Ayurveda, 309 in Yoga, 139 in Homoeopathy and 29 in Unani," says Kotecha.
The Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), an autonomous body under the ministry, has 17 patents and many technologies currently in commercial use. "More drug development studies on dengue, diabetes, wound healing, improving quality of life for cancer patients etc are in their final stages of completion," reveals Kotecha.
A few months back, the government allotted RS 400 crore to the National Medicinal Plants Board. In a first, CCIM has got together educational technologists to give inputs to train subject experts to prepare a syllabus at par with international standards.
And teachers next. According to reports, as of January 2018, there are only eight lakh traditional -medicine doctors registered with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare compared to 1.1 million allopathic doctors.
UNDER THE WEATHER
Traditional medicine's struggle for official recognition continues valiantly in spite of its widespread popularity. Kotecha points out the dire need for surgeons in our villages relating to the relevance of ayurvedic surgeons. "We aren’t talking about super-specialty surgeries here so why should IMA protest? The big drug lobby is the main obstacle to this move," Triguna complains.
Irresponsible statements have moreover muddied the waters with Union Ministers as the worst culprits. Ramdas Athawale claimed global credit for "Go Corona Go". Ashwini Choubey recommended "sunbathing from 11 am to 2 pm as a cure for the virus". Arjun Ram Meghwal’s 'BhabhiJi' papad was expected to boot out coronavirus from India. A BJP MP from Rajasthan claimed sitting in a mud pack blowing a conch shell is helpful in fighting the coronavirus.
A BJP MLA from Assam claimed that cow urine and cow dung can cure cancer and coronavirus. Days later, the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha held a gaumutra drinking party in Delhi. Congress councillor Ravichandra Gatti recommended peppered rum and half-fried eggs, sunny side up to beat COVID.
Despite WHO's Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023, recognising the contribution of Traditional and Complementary Medicines to health, practitioners aren’t valued as they should be, and termed 'quacks'. "It’s a battle between the classical and modern. Modern medicine offers quick relief, or at least people believe so. In Unani or Ayurveda it may take many months, but we nip it in the root itself," Hakim Faiyaz Hassan Faizi of Urban Primary Health Centre, Argara Road, Munger, Bihar, says. His treatment has been effective for leucoderma and gastro-intestinal disorders.
The demand for recognition for alternate medical practitioners isn’t unreasonable. Ayurveda, Unani, Sidhha and Homoeopathy doctors follow the same course duration as Western medicine - 4.5 years followed by a year of internship and post-doctoral studies are of two years.
“Research methodology and mindset must be inculcated into minds of students of all medical systems, including conventional medicine,” says Dr Kalyan Banerjee.
India's red tape-bound government is traditionally resistant to change. There are entrenched lobbies fighting to guard their lucrative and influential fiefdoms and posts. Only the most determined succeed, like Dr Raman Kapur.
He strived for six years to get Acupuncture official recognition as a certified medical field until 2019, when the Centre recognised Acupuncture and Hypnotherapy as independent systems of therapy. "At a committee meeting, I had to hire a truck to carry 400 books and research journals on the subject. Only research and data could convince the committee of the significance of Acupuncture," says Dr Kapur.
He warned against creating a divide between alternative and modern systems of treatment. "We want people to understand that this therapy works so well in cases of infertility, asthma, chronic gastritis, hypertension, sciatica, to name a few. And now we have better technologies, which don’t require needles," Dr Kapur assures.
Popular playback singer Akhil Sachdeva terms the acupuncturist’s presence as nothing short of a "blessing". The award-winning artiste developed nodes on his vocal chords. Steroids didn’t help. Doctors suggested surgical removal which meant curtain down on his singing career.
But after a few sittings with Dr Kapur, the interfering growth vanished. He went on to sing the hit Bollywood number ‘Mere Humsafar’, which won him several awards. Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi, too, after campaigning for elections a few years back, had lost her voice and recovered with his treatment.
Traditional is finally becoming main stream and Dhanvantari is going viral. India is at last getting a taste of its own medicine.
This traditional Chinese medicine technique involves insertion of very thin metal needles into the skin at specific points on the body to clear energy channels, with the aim of restoring and maintaining health. It is used for a wide range of ailments, including low back pain and pain related to arthritis, headaches, post-operative pain, adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, addiction, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
ANCIENT HEALING SYSTEMS
Yoga & Naturopathy
Naturopathy works on the inherent healing power of nature and uses non-invasive methods of intervention to create a suitable environment to facilitate the healing of the body by itself. Yoga is a means of balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions. Sciatica, eczema, facial paralysis, psycho-somatic disorders, hypertension, gout etc are a few disorders that can be treated with this mode of therapy.
The 5000-year-old practice draws its origins from Vedic days in India. It is categorised into three different types of life forces (doshas) - vata, pitta, and kapha - and treatment is based on a patient’s dosha. Ayurveda is beneficial in curing insomnia, helps in management of lifestyle diseases and auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, among a host of other diseases.
Its origins are found in the doctrines of the ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen. The system works on the principle that seven natural factors make up the human being and a disease is basically an imbalance in the normal temperament, disorganisation and discontinuity of the structure. It offers successful treatment particularly for non-communicable diseases, such as metabolic, autoimmune and lifestyle disorders as well as gynaecological issues.
This ancient system, mainly hailing from Tamil Nadu, revitalises and rejuvenates dysfunctional organs that cause the disease. Kayakarpam, a special combination of medicine and lifestyle, Varmam therapy, Vaasi (Pranayamam) and Muppu, the universal salt, are the specialities of the Siddha system of medicine. It works best in ulcers, psoriasis, eczema, alopecia, diabetic ulcer, warts, vitiligo etc.
One of oldest medical treatments, this is currently popular in Ladakh, Lahoul and Spiti, Darjeeling, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. It is also being practiced in countries such as Bhutan, Mongolia and Russia. It employs a complex approach to diagnosis, incorporating techniques such as pulse analysis and urinalysis. Sowa Rigpa is used to treat insomnia, emotional disorders, and digestive issues.
Founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, this works on the law of similars, which predicts that a substance that causes symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. It works best for migraines, premenstrual syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue etc.