Evidence-based Traditional Medicine


Context: Outrightly denying traditional medical systems would be a hasty dismissal of valuable medical experience and a disservice to the scientific attitude. India needs to work on evidence-based traditional medicine. The acceptability of traditional medicines in the scientific community would increase if evaluated by the methods of modern science in a way that does not compromise with the wholeness of Ayurvedic formulations. 

Evidence-based medicine vs traditional medicine

  • Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): EBM is based on the integration of the best available scientific evidence, clinical expertise, and patient preferences and values. It is based on empirical data rather than anecdotal evidence. 
  • Traditional Medicine: Rooted in tradition and experience, traditional medicine is based on long-standing practices passed down through generations. It may include herbal remedies, cultural rituals, and practices.
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Reasons for non-development of alternate medicine in India

  • Lack of scientific validation: Alternative medicine is often not based on scientific evidence or rigorous testing. Without proper scientific validation, it can be difficult for alternative medicine to gain acceptance in the medical community and among the general public. 
  • Limited government support: While India has a rich tradition of alternative medicine, government support for research and development in this field, in the past has been limited, which has hindered the growth of alternative medicine. E.g., Lack of dedicated funding mechanisms for research and development of alternative medicine. 
  • Competition from conventional medicine: Conventional medicine, including modern pharmaceuticals, is highly developed and widely accepted in India. This has made it difficult for alternative medicine to gain a foothold and compete in the marketplace.
  • Lack of standardisation: Unlike conventional medicine, which is highly standardised and regulated, alternative medicine often lacks standardisation. This can lead to inconsistencies in the quality and efficacy of alternative treatments, which can undermine public confidence in these therapies.
  • Scepticism among medical professionals: Some medical professionals remain sceptical about the efficacy of alternative medicine, particularly when it comes to treating serious or life-threatening conditions. 

Recent developments

  • The government has established the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) to promote the integration of traditional Indian medicine with modern medicine. 
  • In May 2023, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Ministry of AYUSH for collaboration and cooperation in health research in the field of Integrated Medicine. 
  • Integrated medicine in India refers to the practice of combining traditional Indian medicine systems, such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH), with modern medicine
  • Aim: To provide patients with a holistic approach to healthcare that takes into account physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health. By combining different therapies, healthcare providers can tailor treatment plans to individual patients.
  • The Ministry of AYUSH and ICMR have joined hands to undertake quality human clinical trials to generate evidence on the benefits of using Ayurveda along with modern medicine (evidence-based medicine) in treating certain disease conditions of national importance.
    • ICMR will design and conduct these trials as it holds decades of experience in conducting human clinical trials. In the initial phase, the collaboration will be restricted to Ayurveda
    • Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy may be included in future and each system will be tested together with modern medicine.

Significance of the fusion of the traditional Indian medicine system with modern medicine

The recent COVID-19 Pandemic has underscored the importance of AYUSH thus calling for its revival and fusion with modern medicine to build a holistic health system, which provides: 

  • Comprehensive care: Traditional Indian medicine, such as Ayurveda, focuses on a holistic approach to health and wellness. This means that it considers the individual as a whole, including physical, mental, and emotional factors. By combining this approach with modern medicine, patients can receive more comprehensive and personalized care.
  • Accessibility: Traditional Indian medicine is often more accessible and affordable than modern medicine. By incorporating these therapies into modern healthcare systems, it reduces out-of-pocket expenditure
  • Innovation: By combining traditional Indian medicine with modern medicine, new and innovative treatments can be developed, which can lead to better healthcare outcomes for patients and advances in medical research.
  • Overcome the challenge of doctors’ shortage: The existing doctor-patient ratio in India is 1:1700 and the ratio improves to around 1:800 (below the WHO’s mandate of 1:1000) with the integration of the AYUSH practitioners.
  • Help tackle multidrug-resistant diseases such as tuberculosis, lifestyle disorders and long-term diseases. It can reduce the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases- The WHO Report highlights that non-communicable diseases account for 63% of deaths in India. 
  • Reduces the pollution in the manufacturing and waste management of allopathic medicine. 

Steps to build a holistic health system:

  • Invest in research and development of AYUSH for integration with modern medicine.
  • Update curriculum in medical courses to integrate traditional Indian medicine system with modern medicine.
  • Introduce bridge courses for AYUSH practitioners and health professionals for interdisciplinary learning.
  • Co-locate AYUSH facilities in hospitals and primary health centres.
  • Build awareness in the Public about the benefits and limitations of integrated medicine through public health campaigns, community outreach programs, and partnerships with traditional healers and practitioners. 

Practise question for Mains:

Q. Revival of the traditional Indian systems of medicine and their fusion with modern medicine can pave the way for a holistic health system. Discuss.

Source: The Hindu

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