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Ayurvedic surgeons triggers call for a strike by the IMA

Ayurveda. AYUSH controversy illustration.
Image credit: artemfurman / 123rf

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for a strike on December 11th over calls for Ayurvedic surgeons.

The Government’s call for alternative medicine practitioners to be licensed to practise surgery was met with a strong backlash. As reported in The Independent, “the controversial move now sanctions practitioners of the traditional system to perform a variety of general surgeries including ENT [ear nose and throat procedures] ophthalmological and dental procedures after training. As per the new rules, training modules for surgical procedures will be added to the curriculum of Ayurvedic studies for the first time, the notification from the government said.” 

The IMA in its response called on doctors to strike in protest. The move is to affect non-essential services, though is not reported to affect intensive care or COVID-19-related matters. The organisation said “the IMA will have no objections for the council to develop their own dedicated disciplines without mixing modern medicine surgical disciplines.”

The involvement of alternative medicine in India’s public health system has been a long-standing matter of dispute. Since assuming power, the Narendra Modi administration has promoted alternative systems of medicines with the creation of the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, and Siddha (AYUSH). It has done so also at the international level, at high-level forums such as the G20 Summit in 2020 and being instrumental in the creation of the International Day of Yoga. 

However, a number of moves made by the Union Government in this respect have been controversial. A so-called “bridge course” allowing alternative medicine practitioners to practise allopathic medicine – at least to some degree – met fierce opposition. The controversy over the Ayurvedic surgeons is reminiscent of that.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed a number of AYUSH interjections – and much pushback. The AYUSH Ministry has suggested some alternative medicine products are effective in treatment of the disease – to the chagrin of a number of commentators. Prime Minister Modi has even reached out to AYUSH practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An IndiaSpend analysis published in November, in part, read

“The AYUSH ministry in October released recommendations to integrate “Ayurveda and Yoga interventions” into India’s national clinical management protocol for COVID-19. Among other things, it recommends tackling COVID-19 with warm water gargles, applying medicated ghee in nostrils, steam inhalation, drinking “golden milk” (hot milk with turmeric) and kadha/kashayam/kwath (hot infusion with ayurvedic herbs) combined with good diet, sleep and exercise. 

“The clinical protocol recommends patients take ayurvedic formulations such as Ayush-64, Guduchi Ghana Vati, Guduchi with Pipalli and Asvagandha even while suffering from hypoxia (loss of oxygen in the body) and breathlessness due to COVID-19… “…These AYUSH recommendations have upset some doctors and made frontline workers’ jobs more difficult, we found. Doctors we spoke to narrated instances of COVID-19 patients reporting late to hospitals as they were relying on Ayurvedic home remedies instead. Doctors said they noticed low platelet counts and excessive bleeding during surgeries among their patients as a result of unmonitored use of herbal remedies.”

Such issues are unlikely to disappear from public scrutiny.

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