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Scientists fume over AYUSH Ministry note

AYUSH Ministry advisory: Ban on therapies.
Ayurvedic therapies would no longer be able to be reviewed by non-AYUSH practitioners as per new advisory from the Union AYUSH Ministry.

The Union AYUSH Ministry has alienated the scientific community following an advisory note effectively banning non-AYUSH researchers from studying the effectiveness of alternative medicine products.

The note, dated May 2nd, referred to the systems of alternative and traditional medicine covered under the AYUSH umbrella – ayurvedic, unani, siddha, naturopathy, homoeopathy, and yoga – as an “integral part of the country’s healthcare delivery work…not at all comparable to the modern medicine system.” As such, it says, any research conducted by scientists working outside of the AYUSH disciplines must include a contribution from an AYUSH practitioner. Otherwise, the note encourages journals to reject papers on AYUSH treatments and drugs.

This, the Ministry insists, is necessary to prevent “damage to the image of traditional healthcare systems” which could result from “arbitrary statements and unfounded conclusions” by non-AYUSH practitioners. However, the note has come under fire from scientists and commentators. News Click states that “the advisory nullifies scientificity in its essence.”

“The actual disrepute to the traditional Indian healthcare systems, including Ayurveda, is caused by the mushrooming of low-quality journals which publish poor-quality pseudo-research,” scientists Subhash Lakhotia, Kishor Patwardhan, and Sanjeev Rastogi opined in Current Sciences. Such research, they state, is “conducted often by AYUSH ‘experts’ themselves”. This should be a priority for the Ministry, the authors continue, as opposed to “placing a gag on studies and voices that may not agree with traditionally held views.” They go on to note that

“An unopposed faith in ancient knowledge and practices on account of their being traditional, without revalidation in the contemporary context, is indeed ominous. The AYUSH practices and formulations need to be substantiated by evidence-based understanding.

Studies undertaken by AYUSH or non-AYUSH researchers that question a traditionally held belief and bring systematic evidences challenging its rationality, need to be taken seriously rather than being considered as a distraction or ‘insult’ to the ancient wisdom. Intellect and social order move forward only with knowledge and understanding that go beyond what our predecessors knew.”

The growing popularity of AYUSH has been evident in India for a number of years, with the Government keen on promoting alternative systems of medicine. This has included expansion of AYUSH services in health and wellness centres and the establishment of increased numbers of ayurvedic institutes. Concurrently, ayurvedic products are increasing in popularity. Last year witnessed a fifty percent increase in the number of patients seeking homoeopathic treatment. AYUSH is also driving the rapid growth of India’s medical tourism industry.

The place of alternative and traditional systems of medicine in Indian history and society cannot be overlooked, but nor should basic scientific principles and standards in evaluating their effectiveness and safety for use. Integration of AYUSH and modern medicine can have some benefits, but AYUSH cannot seek integration without being held to the same standard.

In all this, the health and wellbeing of consumers must be kept in mind above all other considerations, including the public image of AYUSH. The advisory note set forth by the AYUSH Ministry threatens to undermine this, at potential risk to consumers and damaging the scientific and AYUSH communities.

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