It is heartening to note that Ayurveda is going places. As reported in the media and further endorsed by the PM, the Ministry of Ayush has signed a Host Country Agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) for establishing a WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) at Jamnagar in India, with its interim office at the Institute of Training and Research in Ayurveda (ITRA) in Gujarat.
It must be noted here that after the establishment of the global headquarters of the International Solar Alliance in Gurugram some five years before, India will be a host to yet another global body, this time in Gujarat. The primary objective of this centre is to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the world through modern science and technology and improve the overall health of communities across the globe.
This welcome development provides a global window for all traditional medicinal systems in India to work in collaboration with bodies worldwide. Secondly, it also marks a kind of international recognition for one of the significant sections of our traditional knowledge systems. With an Ayurvedacharya—and not an administrative services official—heading the AYUSH ministry, it would be reasonable to expect that AYUSH would do everything to build up further on this opportunity.
India is home to a plethora of traditional medicinal systems. We have Siddha, Yoga, Naturopathy, Tibetan medicine and a variety of region-specific herbal medicines besides Unani and Homoeopathy. However, in popularity, Ayurveda is perhaps the most widespread traditional medicinal system, well-entrenched in Indian society.
Unlike many modern medicinal systems, Ayurveda is essentially known for an integrated and holistic approach that attempts to provide lifestyle solutions to several common health issues. Also, generally speaking, Ayurveda has no side effects.
The emphasis on preventive and therapeutic approaches in Ayurveda is almost incomparable. It aims at immortality and in the shorter term, focuses on all-round wellness. Notably, the state of California, in the US, has now introduced Yoga in schools as a way of lifestyle modification.
They also have introduced mindfulness as a part of the curriculum in many schools. Such examples of state recognition to what is essentially an Indian traditional medicinal system are indicative of the fact that demand for Ayurveda and traditional medicines in general is growing.
However, even with several unique features of Ayurveda, the apparent limitations of it cannot be ignored. From the commoners’ point of view, like fast food, fast medicines are preferred and Ayurveda often fails on that count. Administration of Ayurvedic medicines like kadhas and churans are comparatively not so user friendly.
While allopathy claims to offer single-window solutions, Ayurveda demands multiple treatments and the increasing pace of life makes it unfriendly to the patient.
Sanskrit names of medicines sound difficult to pronounce and remember, lack of standardisation in mechanisms for the production of Ayurvedic medicines and apparent inadequacies in treating acute infections and other emergencies are some of the many challenges that have prevented the speedy development of the science. In popular perception, sadly Ayurveda continues to be associated with poor research, poorer documentation in global languages and low evidence base.
For Ayurveda to blossom globally as one of the most ancient and significant knowledge systems, marrying traditional Ayurveda to modern medicinal research and documentation systems is a must.
To that end, collective and structured efforts for unanimity leading to self-confidence in the Ayurveda fraternity, adoption of modern research methodologies without compromising on the essential indigenousness and documentation of research in globally acceptable systems are the three critical requirements.
Many times, the Ayurveda fraternity comes across as a divided house. While differences of opinion on scientific or policy issues may be genuine, they are construed as issues of personal ego. Whatever the reality, the impact is disastrous as it prevents a strong, united approach and punctures the self-confidence of the fraternity. This is obviously detrimental to the growth of Ayurveda as a science.
Happily, the leadership of the AYUSH ministry is deeply conscious of this situation and is determined to transform the same. Vaidya Kotecha, a renowned Ayurveda expert, is working for the integration of AYUSH in healthcare delivery and national health programmes.
He understands the challenge of establishing evidence-based applications and research by AYUSH practitioners. In an interview, he has suggested four key strategies to achieve the ministry’s goals.
1. Standardisation of quality control (R&D); 2. Sustainable development of resources; 3. Integration of AYUSH in health delivery systems; 4. Promotion of science and technology as an integral part of AYUSH development for the promotion of AYUSH-based healthy living.
My only request to the ministry would be that it should convince the decision-makers to desist from referring to allopathy as modern medicine. Singling out allopathy in this way makes all other medicinal systems look un-modern. This should not happen.
All these strategy points are critical and if we work together on them, the days of having an independent Lancet (the most famous and globally established journal for medical research) for Ayurveda and Yoga besides all traditional Indian knowledge systems are certainly not too far.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP