The UN General Assembly adopted an India-led resolution in 2014 declaring June 21 as ‘International Day of Yoga’. The purpose of the day is to recognise and promote that “Yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being”. At the G20 this year, Prime Minister Modi has continued to promote the practice, alongside other AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) treatments.
During the third session of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Modi touted two of his government’s flagship health services: the Union Ministry of AYUSH and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) – better known as Ayushman Bharat — which is billed as the world’s largest health insurance scheme.
AYUSH treatments have been heavily emphasised in India in recent years as an alternative healthcare system. In some instances, AYUSH therapies may indeed be useful. Using yoga as an example, the practice – like other forms of physical exercise – cardiac health — thereby reducing risks of conditions such as heart disease. However, valid uses and benefits of the AYUSH therapies are often obscured in the push to use such therapies in place of allopathic treatment — often where there are no proven benefits.
Some extreme cases have included websites advertising cow urine as a cancer treatment. Such misinformation is not only incorrect but dangerous. Some individuals may turn to these treatments and opt not to receive allopathic treatment. In the case of cancer, this could lead to the individual’s death.
The AYUSH treatment scheme continues to be pushed despite these issues. “Emphasised on healthcare including India’s traditional healing measures, Yoga and our present efforts like the world’s largest healthcare programme, Ayushman Bharat,” Modi said on Twitter. Advisory notes by the AYUSH Ministry claiming research into AYUSH therapies should only be published if validated by an AYUSH practitioner have sparked fears that AYUSH practices will be beyond scientific investigation.
If India is to continue down this route, a greater degree of scrutiny will be needed to ensure those AYUSH practices that are used and promoted by the Centre have proven benefits. Failing to do so could allow for anything marketed under the guise of “ancient wisdom” to be sold unchallenged as a health product, potentially sidelining proven medications that could genuinely have an impact.