New life for alternative medicines making the mark worldwide

By Lekshmi Parmeswaran
In Health
December 11, 2015
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indian-herbIndia’s relations with traditional me India’s relations with traditional medicines date back to 3000 B.C when Ayurveda first found mention in the oral traditions. Later on Atharva Veda dealt with some aspects of this system. But it was only after the compilation of Susruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita that Ayurveda finally got its scientific form and in Susruta’s words, it became the ‘branch of knowledge that enhances life’. So deep are the roots of traditional systems of medicines in India’s history that its importance still continues to linger on in the society.

It is true that with the advent of technologies and the modern system of medicine, the popularity of many of the traditional schools have waned away over time. But to say that the importance of these systems has lost all relevance in the present times would be a gross underestimation of the ground realities. For many in the country, it is still the wisdom of yore that can provide lasting cure to their conditions.

With the setting up of the Ministry of AYUSH on 9th November, 2014 which includes Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, alternative medicines have got the much needed boost for resurgence. It is well known that across the world, the Indian schools of medicines are widely recognized and practiced. The uniqueness of India lies in the fact that for each and every region, there are multiple systems of medicines that have been preserved and are now being handed down from generations to generations. The use of traditional herbs in many of the local communities points towards how certain practices are still valued by people.

The role of AYUSH

The government formally recognized the importance of alternative medicines in the year 1995 when it set up the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy. It was later renamed to AYUSH in 2003 which was then converted to a ministry by the incumbent government with the aim of popularizing the traditional systems. The aim was to make these traditional systems of knowledge accessible to the common man and put a system in place where alternative medicines are looked at as the first option than the last resort.

By allocating a total of `1,214 in the 2015-16 budget which also includes the setting up of 50 new AYUSH centres in 22 districts, the ministry has shown its resolve in treating it as the original system of medicine. It has also announced plans to set up another 150 centers by 2019. The biggest advantage of these centers lies in in bringing all the systems on a single platform, thus giving people the freedom of choice which they would have previously lacked as locating the practitioners wouldn’t have been easy.

Within the country, the popularity of AYUSH has seen a substantial rise. After a road show that was conducted by the Rajasthan Government, there were MoU’s worth Rs 2,455 crore signed covering various aspects like the establishment of a wellness centre, herbal park, ayurvedic college and a pharmacy.

And it is not just the established schools that AYUSH is looking to promote, it has also given equal importance to the lesser known healing practices that are mostly area specific. The government’s plans to give official status to Horopthay which is an indigenous system of medicine practiced predominantly in Jharkhand points to the revival of the traditional knowledge base.

The ministry has recently launched a scheme called the Swasthya Raksha Program under its campaign to prevent diseases that are caused due to poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. This has been formulated with the goal of bringing the weaker sections of the society under the ambit of AYUSH. An announcement for setting up of the first AYUSH University in Delhi was made by the AYUSH Minister Shripad Yesso Naik which aims at taking a holistic approach towards the integration of the systems. Also the fact that the country already has 7.37 lakh AYUSH practitioners working in over 3,600 AYUSH hospitals is an encouraging sign and reinforces the faith that millions have placed in the traditional medicines.

In the process of spreading awareness within the country, a remarkable achievement of the ministry that needs to be mentioned here is the signing of bilateral agreements with countries like Bangladesh, Mauritius, Nepal and Hungary that has enabled the setting up of Indian alternative medicine centers in those places. With such a step, the government has been effective in giving a scientific thrust to the use of traditional therapies.

Miles to conquer

The discovery of new diseases would have made the sole dependence on traditional medicines redundant. What can be done to keep the knowledge alive would be to use this as a complementary form. For the treatment of diseases which does not require any surgical procedures, all the traditional systems have proven remedies. For example, the treatments of rheumatoid arthritis as well as geriatric care are done most effectively in ayurveda while homeopathy is effectual in curing all dermatological conditions and tackling the pain of terminally ill patients.

One more important point that never finds itself a part of any important discourse is that ayurveda had laid down some crucial steps for the management of HIV when the world was finding it difficult to grapple with the spread of this virus.

It is now the AYUSH ministry’s responsibility to take out such interesting facts and make more and more people aware of the inherent benefits of the traditional systems.

However, the efforts should not stop with mere spreading of awareness. Many of the valuable manuscripts that are a rich treasure trove of knowledge are no longer in India. The maximum number of Ayurvedic manuscripts is preserved in German libraries. The government should be able to bring these back to India or initiate a process where Indian students can take a look at these documents and work on serious areas of research. Only such a proactive approach can help India take greater strides in the field of alternative medicines.

Making the mark worldwide

The year 2015 would arguably have been the best year for both the practitioners as well as believers of alternative medicine. The honoring of the Chinese Professor, Tu Youyou with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, an alternative cure for Malaria using the Chinese traditional medicines would have in a way justified the claims of all those who had been espousing the infallibility of the centuries old knowledge.

Traditional Chinese medicine has a history of 2,000 years and is a combination of herbal medicine, exercises and good dietary practices. But the biggest contribution of this system to the world today remains the acupuncture therapy, which is used for pain relief. Countries across the world have introduced it in their medical systems along with conventional therapies.

Another system which has stood the test of time to get integrated into the alternative discourse is the ancient Egyptian medicine. This also has its primary focus on the medicinal properties of various plants and the methods of drug making mentioned in its literature is relevant in the cure of many modern day diseases.