Modern Medicine and Ayurveda in India
India has been acknowledged as the pharmacy of the world and an advocate of modern medicine. However, there is a definite lack of awareness about Ayurveda amongst the Indian population, especially the younger generation. Despite growing Governmental support, the system has been facing challenges in disseminating the knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine and its modalities.
Today, the norm in India is that people seek doctors who have an MBBS, MD degrees over ayurvedic doctors with a BAMS, MD degrees. Since India is a fast-growing country with booming industries and overflowing working-class population, the restless need to achieve quicker results makes them choose modern over Ayurvedic medicine. The field of Ayurveda needs to take cognizance of educating the society on what is possible through Ayurvedic medicines along with highlighting its benefits.
Ayurveda and Allopathy have always had a challenging relationship. People have been influenced by modern medicine as they believe it to be scientific, faster in action, showing quicker relief from symptoms, easily available and above all endorsed by the media. Many label Ayurveda as a pseudoscience because of their limited exposure and lack of understanding about its basic principles. Treating a disease or any condition by cutting it open or addressing a symptom with a pill is a faster, easier approach than healing or reversing it from its roots.
The science of Ayurveda has been difficult to translate in terms of modern medical concepts and terminologies since they have different approaches to diseases and are not equivalent systems. Even then, many expect Ayurvedic concepts and its influence on healing to be validated by scientific evidence. There exist widespread misconceptions about this natural science of life. Let us look at some of the common aspects that have led people to not consider Ayurveda as a mainstream system.
Lack of awareness on origins of several Modern Medicines
According to researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the United States, around 70% of all new drugs introduced in the country in recent decades have been derived from natural sources. Friedrich Serturner- integrated natural medicine with modern medicine after extracting morphine from opium which is widely used as a painkiller. As Pharmaceutical industries began using synthetic techniques to develop medicines, many forget that the discovery of several modern medicines was through natural products or sources. The benefits and indications of Ahiphena (opium) have already been mentioned in our ancient Indian literatures.
For most people, Insurance has become a major factor in choosing a treatment for most conditions. They are influenced by their health insurance and its coverage in making medical decisions. Cashless reimbursements are not available at most Ayurvedic Centers, where one must first pay out of pocket. Though insurance coverage for AYUSH systems have been introduced in India, the treatment must be done at a government recognized hospital or institution or be accredited by the Quality Council of India (QCI) and the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH).
Limited Scientific Data and Research Publications
During ancient times, acharyas (sages) of Ayurveda have written voluminous works on different specialties like living healthy lifestyles, curing diseases from its roots, performing surgeries etc. The collections of these resource materials have not been adequately translated or made accessible for modern medical research. Despite numerous efforts made by individuals and organizations to conduct research, the lack of investment into Ayurvedic research has been a major setback. With limited people undergoing treatment with Ayurvedic medicines, the availability of data for analysis and publication becomes limited. Research journals that do publish research on Ayurvedic treatment principles and concepts don’t get the necessary spotlight and attention from the media and public. People are hence aware of Ayurveda but are unaware of its true benefits and actual impact on health outcomes.
Western and Media Influence
Western influence has a lot to do with people's psychology related to modern medicines. People are habituated to following the mainstream media that is heavily influenced by western cultures and way of doing things. This has increased endorsements and advertisements causing a large influx of modern pharmaceutical products into the country. Funding from government and the private sectors for research, testing, and publishing in AYUSH are also influenced by how things are done in the West. For 2022-23, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been allocated with a budge of Rs 86,201 crore, while the Ministry of AYUSH has received an allocation of Rs 3,050 crore (just 3.5% compared to the Ministry of Health). Practice of Ayurveda with a BAMS, MD degree has been a challenge in foreign countries. Lack of Ayurvedic institutions, courses, hospitals, or clinics have caused people to be unaware of its importance in the West. Nonetheless, as we saw a slow transformation in the recent past with adoption of yoga and meditation, the time for Ayurveda is next.
Pseudo Advocates have not helped
Commercial companies instill the word ‘Ayurvedic’ in their products as a marketing strategy to attract and retain customers, whereas, in reality, it wouldn’t even be an Ayurvedic formulation. Several street vendors setup stores proclaiming to treat various diseases in the name of Ayurveda and other irrational methods. These spurious claims impact the reputation of Ayurvedic doctors who spent nearly a decade studying and training in Ayurveda. They tamper with the reputation of Ayurveda and cloud people's judgment.
Everything takes time and effort with Ayurveda
Ayurvedic treatments require consistency and patience. The number of medicines prescribed are more and repeated consultations are necessary to properly assess the effect of medicine on the patient’s body. Since people demand quicker results, they opt for a faster modern medicine approach compared to Ayurveda. Moreover, as Ayurvedic formulations are all naturally derived, its shelf life is lesser compared to modern medicines. The procedure to source herbs to prepare an Ayurvedic formulation is tedious and requires lot of manual labor, whereas modern medicines are synthetically prepared with the help of machines.
There are many common misconceptions associated with Ayurveda that have been bred in people's minds. For instance, some think that Ayurveda is outdated and hence slow to work. Some blindly believe that Ayurveda means just massages and decoctions, but didn’t know that there is a lot of knowledge in Ayurveda around Surgeries, Deliveries, Pre-conception, Neonatal care etc. Some feel that Ayurvedic treatment does not require a doctor and self-medication can be done with herbs at home. Many others start adopting Ayurvedic treatments only after the modern medicine approach has failed.
The roots of Ayurveda being the primary public health system has transformed into deep reliance on modern medicine, especially for the next generation. Though western influence has always impacted the healthcare system in India, people are gradually coming to terms with the benefits of Ayurvedic Medicine. Of course, every healthcare system has its own flaws, but it is important to recognize and acknowledge the advantages of different systems of medicine. Recently, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, “AYUSH doctors are equally recognized as Allopathic doctors now.” With increasing government support, it is time to come out of comfort zones for common good and envision a smart strategy to create awareness, build scientific evidence, foster confidence in the youth and open the minds of the public to acknowledge Ayurveda as a mainstream healthcare system.
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