Since Independence, healthcare planners have neglected the indigenous systems of healthcare like Ayurveda, resulting in our healthcare scenario being dismal. Although most of our population is still dependent on these indigenous systems, Ayurveda receives only 1.5% of the government’s health budget.
As diseases are innumerable and newer ones keep appearing, creating new vaccines and tailor-made drugs with limited scope and numerous side-effects for each new illness, as is done currently, has not proved to be a viable strategy. It would therefore be wise to rely on Ayurveda which, with its strong theoretical base and an extensive pharmacopoeia with innumerable drugs, is capable of dealing with a wide range of diseases, new or old.
Malnutrition: The World Bank estimated that India is the highest ranking country in the world regarding the number of children suffering from malnutrition, which is responsible for 22% of India’s disease burden and a factor in about half of all child deaths.
Children deprived of breastmilk face a bleak future because they lose out on essential nutrition from their diet. Milk, the most critical food for children, is lacking in their diet. An ongoing programme, known as JEEVANI—in several village schools—of giving milk fortified with Ashwagandhadi Choornam, an ayurvedic nutritional supplement and an ayurvedic iron supplement, has shown excellent results in reducing malnutrition and anaemia among children, besides boosting immunity to diseases. The improved health has drastically reduced their visits to doctors/hospitals, resulting in a drop in health-related expenses and school absenteeism.
Anaemia: High rates of anaemia among women and children persist despite decades of effort under the National Nutritional Anaemia Prophylaxis Programme. Anaemia and related complications cause nearly 40% of maternal deaths. A paradigm shift is required at this juncture. Anaemia can be dealt with effectively by introducing an ayurvedic diet and medicines for women, children and pregnant mothers. Ayurveda has many iron compounds in the form of tablets, Bhasma, Arishta (fermented drugs), and medicated ghee. Primary Health Centres can handle this programme with proper orientation and trained health personnel.
Healthy anaemia-free pregnancy and a normal delivery are crucial for reducing Maternal Mortality (MMR). Adopting ayurvedic pregnancy and a post-delivery regimen can help women enjoy a healthy pregnancy and a normal delivery and regain their strength and vitality quickly after childbirth.
Childbirth: The high caesarean deliveries in public and private facilities are alarming. When caesarean surgeries become prevalent in a population of anaemic and malnourished women, there is a sharp increase in morbidity and mortality.
The only solution to this problem is the reintroduction of trained, traditional midwives (who perform only natural deliveries) into the public healthcare system. Sweden, which mainstreamed traditional midwives more than a century ago, made extraordinary progress very early in lowering Maternal Mortality.
Children: India’s Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) also presents an alarming picture. One-fourth of all child deaths in the world occur in India. Respiratory conditions and diarrheal diseases account for nearly 50% of all child deaths under the age of five.
Roughly more than one million deaths annually occur from Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) in India. The death toll from ARI is higher than that of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined. Among children, ARI causes maximum disease and death. Repeated use of antibiotics on children who are malnourished and anaemic with poor resistance to diseases causes further morbidity and mortality.
Ayurvedic physicians use a wide range of medicines to treat all respiratory illnesses, viral or bacterial. Mainstreaming Ayurveda may be the safest and best way to tackle ARI in India.
Next to respiratory diseases, Acute Diarrheal Diseases (ADD) commonly afflict children below five. They are supposed to be caused by different organisms, some known and many unknown. For ADD, the popularly used Oral Rehydration Therapy plays no direct role in fighting the disease and has become the most common management technique. The treatment protocol in public health for ADD remains woefully inadequate. This can be entirely reversed by involving Ayurveda which understands ADD as a severe digestive disorder and offers specific and effective medicines for fast recovery.
Many viral infectious diseases have no known treatment in the Allopathic system. Covid-19 is only one such disease. Our previous article dealt with this in detail. (TNIE 25-06-2022)
Even in surgery, Ayurveda can contribute significantly. It is a fact that the ayurvedic practice of Kshara Sutra in treating anorectal conditions such as haemorrhoids and fistula is far superior to conventional surgery.
Another example is the setting of fractures. Doctors resort to surgeries even for the simplest of fractures. Our traditional bone-setters need mainstream recognition. One of the stated objectives of the National Rural Health Mission was to bring Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) into the mainstream.
However, no serious attempt is yet forthcoming to evaluate and tap the vast potential of Ayurveda in dealing with public health issues. Attempts to improve the health of Indians must therefore begin by identifying areas where the much-needed inputs are already available from ISM.
T M Mukundan
Founding trustee of Centre for Policy Studies. Also a Yoga instructor and Ayurveda scholar
P L T Girija
Senior Ayurveda practitioner