Dr V. B. Vijaykumar – vice president of the Central Council of Indian Medicine, a body under the Union Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) – issued the call for more AYUSH centres at a herbal medicines exhibition. The Council says its aim is “to establish, guide, develop and sustain through resource allocation, good governance and management, dedicated to the maintenance of standards and quality of academic study programmes and practice of Indian System of Medicine to national as well as global needs.”
AYUSH has been promoted intensively by the BJP since it came to power in 2014. Union Minister for AYUSH Shripad Yesso Naik called for an expanded number of AYUSH facilities earlier this year. He said that 12.5 lakh health and wellness centres were needed to provide access to AYUSH at the grassroots level and that the involvement of state and union territory governments was necessary to achieve this aim. In addition, numerous hospitals, including All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, have announced plans to open Ayurvedic departments.
In tandem with government efforts to promote alternative medicine, it is becoming increasingly popular. It was reported last year that a fifty percent rise in the number of people seeking homoeopathic treatments had been recorded in the previous five years. In 2017, 77 percent of households in India used Ayurvedic products. 69 percent used them in 2015.
The government has been keen to promote AYUSH abroad as well as at home. Prime Minister Narendra Modi touted the promotion of alternative and traditional medicine systems at this year’s G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan and had earlier succeeded in convincing the UN General Assembly to designate June 21st as an International Day of Yoga. AYUSH is also considered a key driver of medical tourism in India, an industry projected to be worth US$9 billion in the next two years. In addition, the country has signed memoranda of understanding concerning traditional medicine with numerous countries such as Sri Lanka.
Alternative and traditional medicine systems such as AYUSH carry benefits for health. Yoga, for example, improves cardiac health and mental wellbeing whilst turmeric has been identified as having numerous health benefits. However, it is crucial that AYUSH is not promoted in absolutist terms. Claims made by AYUSH practitioners of their treatments being able to cure diseases such as cancer using cow urine are rife, endangering those who may seek such treatments in lieu of allopathic treatments. Meanwhile, a note by the AYUSH Ministry stating that research concerning AYUSH without the involvement of AYUSH practitioners should not be published by journals sparked fears of alternative medicine effectively becoming immune to scientific investigation and oversight. Ensuring transparency within the alternative medicine sector is as important as expanding it to every state, for the sake of both the industry itself and public health.