Ayurveda and the need to transition from alternative to mainstream medicine

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing disruptions mounted immense pressure on India’s healthcare infrastructure and tested its preparedness to deal with a global crisis of hitherto unseen proportions. As the country continues to remain in the throes of the second wave of the pandemic, expecting a third wave in the next 5-6 months, we need to make judicious use of Ayurvedic medicines to fight the coronavirus. Early this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while inaugurating the Fourth Edition of the Global Ayurveda Festival 2021, said that people are realizing the benefits of Ayurveda and its role in boosting immunity. He further added that Ayurveda could rightly be described as a holistic human science.

esult, in recent times, the discussions around the healthcare benefits of Ayurveda has seen a drastic increase, giving it a new lease of life, particularly in connection with its role in boosting immunity. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimates suggest that the use of herbal medicinal products and supplements has witnessed a steady increase over the past three decades with nearly 80% of global population relying on them for some part of primary healthcare. Interestingly, 80 percent of the raw materials for medicines, including the modern drugs, also comes from herbs. The relevance of a natural system such as Ayurveda cannot be overlooked.

Building trust in Ayurveda for increased adoption and acceptance among the general public

The need of the hour is to utilise modern technology in exploring the relevance of the traditional concepts of Ayurveda and to bolster consumer confidence and trust in Ayurvedic products. This way, the Ayurvedic products can be interpreted in the light of contemporary scientific terminology to offer modern healthcare treatment while meeting unmet medical needs. The benefits of mainstreaming Ayurveda would be tremendous.

It needs no reiteration that access to healthcare has been a perennial problem in India for decades. Despite the current challenges of healthcare access and strained medical resources, it is imperative to adopt a holistic approach by integrating traditional medicine in providing the continuum of care.

In fact, the age-old indigenous system of medicine has already been given priority in the form of the AYUSH system that serves the healthcare needs of India’s populace. However, this holistic approach should be practised across both ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ for better outcomes in the Indian healthcare system. With the government of India’s commitment to achieving universal healthcare goals by 2030 as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Government of India now planning to roll out an integrated health system policy initiative, it is necessary to build, sustain and encourage an evidence-based framework for practitioners of traditional medicine

Standardising traditional systems of medicine

Standardising Ayurvedic practices and remedies will go a long way in accelerating its acceptance as a part of mainstream medicine in India. It is heartening to note that the government of India has taken due note of the critical role of traditional medicines in addressing diverse healthcare needs of the people, particularly, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the WHO’s proposed plan to set up a Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in India will give the much needed shot in the arm of traditional medicine and help India harness the untapped potential of the sector. Consequently, the annual trade in the domestic herbal medicinal products is expected to witness a significant rise in demand in the next few years.

However, for this to happen, the Central and State governments should identify newer avenues of collaboration and offer increased policy support to the sector and create a cohesive regulatory mechanism that meets national and international standards in safety and efficacy. Wherever possible, public-private partnerships could also be encouraged to achieve the national objective of universal healthcare for all.

The efforts made by the Central government in promoting traditional medicine in India is praiseworthy, including the implementation of the Centrally-sponsored scheme of the National AYUSH Mission through the State and Union Territory Governments for the promotion and development of AYUSH systems. The Central government has a greater role to play in it as the overall responsibility of building an enabling environment for traditional medicines rests with it.

Despite all the above measures, Ayurvedic products continue to be perceived as ‘alternative medicine’. Indeed, the time has come for the Government to integrate the protocols involving the best practices from both modern and traditional medicine systems to strengthen India’s healthcare system. It should accept scientifically backed evidence-based Ayurvedic products as a frontline treatment, keeping in mind the healthcare needs of India’s 1.38 billion people.

Undoubtedly, the scope for the growth of herbal remedies is tremendous. Moreover, tailwinds from the pandemic can help Ayurveda transition from a complementary or alternative system of medicine to becoming part of the mainstream. Nevertheless, success on this front depends on concerted efforts from both public and private players. Hopefully, all stakeholders will appreciate the importance of joining hands in the common cause of public health and well-being.

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