An ayurveda institute at one of India’s foremost oncology institute risks closure after failing to produce results about ayurveda’s ability to cure cancer – putting its credibility at stake.
The medical education department of the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Karnataka signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2017 with the Union Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). The MoU established an ayurveda unit at the Institute.
Nearly two years on, the Institute’s director Dr C Ramachandra has said the unit has failed to prove the effectiveness of ayurveda in treating cancer. “Not even level-1 research has been done so far,” Dr Ramchandra said.
“‘When it comes to ayurvedic medicine, there’s no proof of its effectiveness”
The term of the agreement ends in March next year, after which Dr Ramachandra has said he will ask the unit to vacate. It is unclear yet that this will be the case: one ayurveda practitioner has insisted that “the MoU is not time-bound and can be reviewed.” Meanwhile, they claim, “over eighty percent of patients have opted for treatment” at the ayurveda unit, which undertakes ‘a holistic approach’ to palliative care and treatment for cancer.
AYUSH approaches may have a part to play in administering palliative care. Exercises such as yoga and meditation could provide some relaxation and relief to patients with advanced cancer. Some natural remedies may also prove effective at relieving symptoms.
“We have no problem with the meditation or yoga classes,” Dr Ramachandra has said. “But when it comes to ayurvedic medicine, there’s no proof of its effectiveness….for instance, Stage 1 cancer is treatable. But had there been any research in ayurveda where Stage 1 cases have been treated with ayurvedic drugs alone.”
He additionally stated that “poor patients who visit Kidwai seeking treatment can’t be used as guinea pigs.”
“The AYUSH push has resulted in significant investment into researching the potential benefits of ayurvedic medicines. However…these investments may produce little by way of actual results”
The stance taken by Dr Ramachandra and the Kidwai Institute is understandable. While AYUSH treatments can play part in helping cancer sufferers manage their symptoms, it cannot treat the disease itself. To claim otherwise is irresponsible and dangerous. According to Dr Ramachandra, it has resulted in instances of “cancer patients who were treated in Kidwai opting for alternative treatment elsewhere and coming back to us with adverse effects”.
This is not the first time that the practises of the ayurveda unit at the Kidwai Institute have come under fire. Four months after it opened, patients were disappointed on arriving to find there were no medicines to treat their illness. The best staff could offer were lifestyle tips.
The AYUSH push has resulted in significant investment researching into the potential benefits of ayurvedic medicines. However, as the Kidwai Institute example illustrates, these investments may produce little by way of actual results. Meanwhile, overconfidence in AYUSH is rife – and could actually be detrimental to Indians’ health.
AYUSH can play a role in terms of complementary medicine. However, it cannot completely supplant allopathic modes of treatment entirely in the treatment of illnesses of the severity of cancer. If efforts are undertaken to do this, level-1 research at the very least should be carried out.