Protection of Indigenous Health Sector with Special Reference to Traditional Medicinal Knowledge in India


Traditional Medicine is now a well-known and respected field. Many multinationals no longer belittle traditional medicine and have in fact been trying to secure patents on Indian medicine without acknowledging the source. Much re-legitimizing of Indian medicine has already been done. Early forms of indigenous medical systems probably emerged around the sixth century BC and continued to have an anchor in a holistic approach based on humoral theories , while modern Western medicine departing from its roots in philosophy and psychology has adopted Cartesian dualism of body and mind Indian Systems of Medicine are among the well known global traditional systems of medicine. In this review, an attempt has been made to provide general information pertaining to different aspects of these system

It is a well-known fact that Traditional Systems of medicines always played important role in meeting the global health care needs. The system of medicines which are considered to be Indian in origin or the systems of medicine, which have come to India from outside and got assimilated in to Indian culture are known as Indian Systems of Medicine (Prasad, 2002). India has the unique distinction of having six recognized systems of medicine in this category. They are-Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Yoga, Naturopathy and Homoeopathy. Though Homoeopathy came to India in 18th Century, it completely assimilated in to the Indian culture and got enriched like any other traditional system hence it is considered as part of Indian Systems of Medicine (Prasad, 2002). Apart from these systems- there are large number of healers in the folklore stream who have not been organized under any category. In the present review, attempt would be made to provide brief profile of three systems to familiarize the readers about them so as to facilitate acquisition of further information.

An indigenous system is a natural form of medicine outside the stream of Western or allopathic medicine practiced by majority of doctors all over the world today. Indigenous systems have existed since time immemorial, but few of them have been developed into fully-fledged working systems. Among the most prominent 9f them are Ayurveda, homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga, hydrotherapy, naturopathy, siddha, unani, and manipulative therapy. Some of these, such as acupuncture and Ayurveda, are ancient, some like homeopathy are highly symptomatic, some like yoga depend on exercise and meditation as methods of treatment, and some, like naturopathy. avoid any artificial aid. Thus, indigenous systems are a diverse lot, but they all have one basic feature in common. They all attempt in some way or the other, to stimulate the self-healing capacity of the body.


Among the indigenous systems of medicine prevalent today, Ayurveda has attracted the most attention and caught the imagination of millions of people, not just in India but world-wide. Ayurveda is believed to be the knowledge of living and not merely the treatment of illness. According to Sushruta, a healthy person is one in whom dos has, dhatus and malas are all in equilibrium, and the mind, the senses, and the soul are all tranquil. This definition closely matches the WHO’s definition of health, which is a state of optimum physical, mental, and social well being, not merely an absence of disease and infirmity. The science of Ayurveda is highly developed. It believes that as the physical state of the universe depends on a perfect balance between the elements constituting it, the biological state of the human body depends on the balance between all its constituents and the external environments.

Another indigenous form of medicine, an offshoot of Ayurveda, it is practiced largely in Tamilnadu and Sri Lanka. The Unani system along with Siddha, has been grouped with Ayurveda by the government. The Unani system is an amalgamation of ayurvedic and Persian medicine brought to India by the Mughals. Unani has been successful in treating chronic disease of the skin, the digestive system, sexual disorders, infertility, etc.
Recently a medical researcher in Madras claimed that a Siddha drug Amrita Bindu can serve as a cure for diabetic retinopathy which is an irreversible condition.

Though not indigenous ·to India, we have the largest homeopathic establishment in the world, of over 4 lakh homeopathic practitioners, 124 schools, and numerous homeopathic hospitals and dispensaries. There is a homeopathic board in every state. Homeopathy should therefore be considered a very viable complementary system of medicine here. The law underlying homeopathy is ‘ Similia Similibus Curantur’ . This is the law of similar, an age-old principle recognized by’ Hippocrates and Paracelsus in 400 BC and the sixteenth century AD, respectively, based on the body’s ability to heal itself. Homeopathy was developed as a practical method of healing by Dr Samuel Hahnemann, a German, in the nineteenth century. Although allopathic doctors cannot explain how homeopathy works, work it often does, frequently with quite dramatic and remarkable results.
In India, homeopathy is ideally suited to the millions of poor, who cannot afford the exorbitant fees and drug bills of allopathic doctors. Besides, it is a slow and steady process of healing that is widely needed today.

Acupuncture is the oldest form of healing known to mankind. It is an ancient Chinese art that dates back nearly 4,000 years. It is based on the principle that there is a nervous connection between the organs of the body and the surface of the body. Consequently, in the event of a disease, acupuncture points appear on the body. Sharp needles are then inserted at these fixed points at controlled depths and duration as therapy.
Theoretically, any reversible disease can be cured by acupuncture, provided it is caused by altered physiology. In practical terms, acupuncture has been useful in treating ginusities, bronchial asthma, acne vulgaris, nausea and vomiting due to pregnancy, chemotherapy, anesthesia or motion sickness, in managing the withdrawal of addictive substances such as opiates, alcohol, cigarette smoking, etc. and providing symptomatic relief in some conditions such as multiple scleroses, malignancy, and psychiatric states such as fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Yoga is a traditional system that is wholly indigenous to India. It has been popularized in the West over the past few decades and has an enormous international following. It is an ancient discipline that develops the body’s mental and physical strength. Through exercise and meditation it strives to purify the soul and lift it beyond hunger, pain, disease, and worldly influences. Yoga is a way of life. Its practice takes the form of yama (abstention), niyama (strict observance), asana (postures), and pranayama (breath control) .
Asanas and pranayama have been its most popular forms. Asanas are said to benefit both the internal organs and the skeletal system. By improving the circulation of the blood to vital organs they are believed to delay the ageing process. Pranayama deals exclusively with the control of breathing and aims at a reduction in breathing frequency and mental concentration on the process of breathing.
Yogic experts claim pranayama is effective in treating bronchial asthma and other related respiratory diseases. Yogasana is also believed to relieve hypertension, tooth decay, spondylitis, and gastric problems, besides reducing obesity, mental tension, and in toning up the body as a whole.
The other indigenous systems of medicine practiced today worth mentioning are:
This is health care system that aims at restoring health and preserving it through food, air, water, sunlight, exercise, sleep, and mental influences such as faith, hope, and peace. Naturopathy involves the use of herbs and naturally found vegetables and fruits to cure ailments.
The employment of mineral water, thermal springs, and bathing as tools for the cure of ailments.
These comprise chiropractic and osteopathy, and are very popular in the West. They are said to cure ulcers, renal inflammation, bladder disorders, and bronchial asthma.

India and Traditional Medicine Systems
To prevent foreign companies from patenting indigenous medicine, the Indian government has made 200,000 traditional medicines “public property” – available for anyone to use but no one to sell as a brand. Indian authorities have become concerned about the growing practice of foreign companies patenting medicinal plants and other components of traditional medicine systems. Five thousand patents for traditional medicines have been issued in global trademark offices, 2,000 of which belong to the Indian Ayurveda, unani and siddha systems of medicine. The 200,000 medicines are listed in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, which took 200 researchers eight years to compile by translating ancient Indian texts. The European Patent Office will now use the database to check that patent applications from companies are valid. India has long faced attempts to patent its traditional remedies.

Legal Aspects
Traditional medicine is widely used in India, especially in rural areas where 70% of the Indian population lives. There are 2860 hospitals, with a total of 45 720 beds, providing traditional Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy in India. In 1998, more than 75% of these beds were occupied by patients receiving ayurvedic treatment, which is by far the most commonly practiced form of traditional medicine in India. There are 22 100 dispensaries of traditional medicine. There are 587 536 registered traditional medicine practitioners and homeopaths, who are both institutionally and non-institutionally qualified.
Just before the Independence Day, on August 13, 2016, the Governor of Maharashtra Shri C. Vidyasagar Rao expressed deep concerns over the misleading advertisements of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy (ASU&H) drugs. The Governor was addressing senior professors, scientists and students at Savitribai Phule Pune University during a function to release two volumes of book on ‘AYUSH in Public Health’ written by eminent social scientist Professor R K Mutatkar. In the speech, the Governor expressed deep concern over the fact that many Ayurvedic and traditional medicines being sold in the market through commercial advertisements in media claiming to cure diseases like diabetes without scientific evidence or clinical trials to support these claims. The Governor further appealed that the Government must take strict action against such advertisers to protect public interests.
This entire issue has scientific, socio economic, legal, moral and ethical dimensions. Misleading advertisements, tele-marketing, multi-level marketing, direct selling and e-tailing pose new challenges. Several eminent public personalities or celebrities as Brand Ambassadors are promoting various products by making unrealistic claims. Many television channels are broadcasting misleading advertisements with tall claims luring desperate patients. It is hoped that the new Consumer Protection Act 2015 Bill is cleared soon and the law will take strict course to put stop to blatant cheating through misleading commercial advertisements claiming cure for many incurable diseases.

Having had an overview of existing indigenous system of medicine, let us analyze the role that these systems play in India. Our major health problems are communicable disease, environmental sanitation, nutritional disorders, child care, and problems relating to aging. The present system of education is vertically structured, i.e. we have allopathic medical colleges, homeopathic and ayurvedic institutions that impart knowledge in their own disciplines. Bearing in mind the draw backs of modem medicines and the inability of indigenous medicines to exist on their own, there is a need to integrate all the forms of medicine under a single umbrella. If the indigenous systems could be incorporated into the existing health care system it would undoubtedly achieve worthwhile results. In recent times I have seen modem doctors routinely prescribing a number of ayurvedic drugs for therapeutic, restorative, and preventive purposes. They often advise naturopathy, yogic exercises, and recommend homeopathic consultation in cases of chronic illness where allopathic remedies are unavailable or ineffective. This is an encouraging sign. Similarly, it may be seen that many doctors with allopathic degrees have turned to homeopathy and are practicing successfully.

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