In an innovative move, the Narendra Modi government has paved the way for the convergence of the traditional medical practice of Ayurveda and modern techniques of allopathic treatment. Both forms of healthcare rely on external elements like drugs, medicine and surgery for the treatment of diseases identified through symptoms and pathology tests. There is already an ongoing debate on Ayurveda turning its focus to treating symptoms, which modern medical science does, instead of primarily seeking to tackle an illness. The new debate arises from a recent government notification allowing postgraduate students of Ayurveda to undergo special training so that they can perform general surgery, including orthopaedic, ophthalmology, ENT, and dental procedures.
There have been protests against this decision, especially from doctors and medical practitioners associated with the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Indian Dental Association, and National Medicos Organisation (NMO). The protesters have raised serious objections to the government’s decision, saying that “each and every variant of medicine is different and has its own identity and the amalgamation of various streams of medical science is a threat to human life and the health care system”. They have also called the new system an “encroachment into the jurisdiction and competencies of modern medicine”. Such objections appear to be more like a turf war greatly motivated by commercial considerations rather than concern for healthcare systems.
Those protesting the Modi government’s decision should understand the issue in detail and substantiate their claims that allowing mixed use of practice will actually result in “threat to human life and healthcare system”. On the face of it, the protests and objections are misguided and based on unfounded apprehensions. Dismissing the Indian traditional medicinal system of Ayurveda and its knowledge as jugaad and quackery is the worst kind of disinformation campaign against ancient indigenous forms of healthcare systems.
Current system needs improvement
It is equally important, however, that no government or regulatory authority should allow healthcare systems to be influenced by quacks and untrained personnel. The Modi government no doubt needs to come out with details of the scheme and also inform the stakeholders about the precautions inbuilt in the new proposal. Modern hospitals and healthcare systems conform to certain global standards. The Ayurvedic traditions and practices, however good and efficient, need to be standardised sufficiently before any integration is attempted.
According to the government notification, issued by the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM), the training modules for surgical procedures will be added to the curriculum of Ayurvedic studies. This development comes after the CCIM amended the Indian Medicine Central Council (PG Ayurveda Education) Regulations, 2016, to include the regulation to allow postgraduate students of Ayurveda to practise general surgery. The students undertaking this course will be trained in two streams of surgery and will be awarded certificates of MS (Ayurved) shalya tantra General Surgery and MS (Ayurved) shalakya tantra (diseases of eye, ear, nose, throat, head and dentistry).
The current system of training and the syllabus provide sufficient opportunities for the Ayurveda aspirants to acquire skills to practice as a general practitioner (GP). The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 suggested introducing a bridge course, which was supposed to widen the syllabus and make provisions for acquiring greater skills that would enhance the capabilities of the students. Yet, there is truth in saying that the present curriculum, teaching methodologies and internship, have ample scope to improve.
Need to see the larger picture
Besides Ayurveda, Indian traditional medicinal systems include Siddha (followed mostly in the South), Unani, Rasashastra, Sowa-Rigpa (traditional Tibetan herbal based medicinal system), naturopathy, homeopathy, and yoga. One should not confuse the 2017 bridge course or even the recent suggestion of the CCIM as attempts to combine all these forms with allopathy and allow all of these traditions to have a free run in the surgical theatres of hospitals.
There have been demands to accord equal recognition to all these systems and treat them on par with allopathic biomedicine. In 1970, the government came up with the Indian Medicine Central Council Act to grant such a recognition. The creation of the Department of AYUSH provided avenues to promote the much-needed research and standardisation of practice methodologies by introducing norms for compliance with modern biomedicine.
The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that preventive healthcare modules and immunity-boosting components and healthcare systems are far superior to post-ailment remedial measures. There is a great amount of global interest in traditional medicinal systems and products with commercially viable propositions and increased market share in the wellness industry. It will be worthwhile looking at the broader picture of healthcare products and systems rather than indulge in professional rivalry and trivial comparisons or fight a turf war.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.