Considerable sums of money are currently being funneled into Ayurvedic institutions, even as India’s healthcare system comes under constant criticism of lacking infrastructure and necessary staffing.
To be inaugurated this month is an entire AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) Hospital at Tuensang in Nagaland. The opening of an entire hospital is an expensive endeavour. This funding may well have been spent on the numerous allopathic medical centres that are currently severely under-equipped to deal with an emerging crisis of non-communicable diseases, as well as infectious outbreaks that continue to blight rural areas without the means to cope with them.
Ayurveda departments will be opened in the new nineteen All India Institutes for Medical Science (AIIMS), Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Yesso Naik has announced.
The move, announced to mark the third Ayurveda day, comes amidst continued expansion to Ayurvedic facilities in India. There have been additional announcements of Ayurveda departments in over one hundred Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) hospitals, as well as in seven hospitals of the Border Security Force and other paramilitary forces.
The theme of Ayurveda Week this year has been ‘Ayurveda for Public Health which also integrates Ayurveda into the national programme of ‘Prevention of Non Communicable Disease’.
Arguably the much more focused effort to provide Ayurvedic treatment in recent years can be attributed to a growing market. Ayurvedic products are increasing in popularity. A recent report unveiled at the Global Ayurveda Summit in Kochi found that 77 percent of Indian households used them in 2017. This is up from 69 percent of households in 2015.
Criticism is not uncommon that India has placed far too much emphasis on AYUSH therapies while the public health budget for allopathic treatments languishes at just over one percent. However, in focusing on NCDs, Ayurveda may indeed provide some manner of relief to India’s considerable NCD burden.
Of primary concern to India is heart disease. Cardiac conditions accounted for 28.1 of overall deaths in 2016, making it India’s biggest killer. A large proportion of heart disease cases are preventable, and in altering lifestyle decisions, India could see a considerable reduction in associated deaths.
Major key risk factors known to cause heart disease are lifestyle related. Sedentary lifestyles with very little exercise, poor diets high in processed and fried food, smoking and alcohol intake are all directly correlated with the chance of developing heart disease. Ayurvedic changes to lifestyle practices could, at the very least, reduce these risk factors.
Red meat, as well as processed meats have long been known to be a risk factor to heart disease. In this respect a largely vegetarian diet as recommended by numerous Ayurvedic practitioners could lead to reduced risks. A predominantly plant-based diet is known to have health benefits, particularly if processed foods are also avoided.
The addition of spices to the diet is another Ayurvedic practice known to have health benefits. Recent studies are revealing spices to be of even more benefit than previously suspected, with some suggesting turmeric — a common component of Indian cuisine — to have a preventative effect against Alzheimer’s disease.
While AYUSH therapies and lifestyle changes can contribute to the battle against NCDs in India, it is important to stress the need for allopathic treatment. A combination of the two systems may be beneficial, but if India is to stem the tide of NCDs, the healthcare budget will need to be increased with regards to allopathic medicine. When untold millions suffer from NCDs and a range of infectious diseases, a mere one percent of GDP is an insufficient budgetary allocation, which is unlikely to prevent issues becoming worse.