The Centre is looking to expand its efforts to promote alternative medicine to the grassroots level.
Shripad Yesso Naik – the Union Minister for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) – said the ministry needed 12.5 lakh (12,500) health and wellness centres nationwide to expand access to AYUSH services. Naik identified state and union territory (UT) governments as key partners in the drive to make traditional medicine systems more accessible for Indians. Ayushman Bharat would be part of the drive to expand access to AYUSH services.
“Public health delivery system has been of highest priority,” Naik said as he addressed the fourth conference of AYUSH and health ministries of states and UTs. “We look forward to an effective integration in the national progress related to health.”
The 2019 Union Budget saw the AYUSH Ministry allocated Rs 2,254.76 crore (US$314.9 million) for the upcoming fiscal year. Naik told delegates at the conference that states and UTs would be able to avail funds as per the National AYUSH Mission Scheme to upgrade infrastructure and ensure sufficient staffing levels at AYUSH facilities.
“Efforts by the Centre to promote alternative and traditional medicine systems have reportedly resulted in a fifty percent increase in patients seeking homoeopathic treatments”
AYUSH has been the target of expansion by the Centre in health-related efforts for a number of years. Efforts by the Centre to promote alternative and traditional medicine systems have reportedly resulted in a fifty percent increase in patients seeking homoeopathic treatments.
Meanwhile, efforts to upscale infrastructure for AYUSH have become manifest in a number of high-profile efforts. These include construction of a state-of-the-art homoeopathy lab and plans to erect ayurvedic institutes across the country, including ayurveda departments in every All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS); more than one hundred Employers’ State Insurance Corporation hospitals; and in seven hospitals catering to paramilitary forces such as the Border Security Force.
“Efforts to promote AYUSH are not limited to a domestic endeavour”
Efforts to promote AYUSH are not limited to a domestic endeavour. India was a prominent delegate to the first International AYUSH Conference, held in the United Arab Emirates in November 2017. AYUSH is also popularly utilised to entice international visitors to India and has been identified as a key driver of the country’s rapidly expanding medical tourism industry.
The promotion of AYUSH overseas as well as at home was mentioned by Rajiv Kumar, chairman of India’s premier think tank NITI Aayog. Kumar suggested that Indian embassies could play a role in expanding AYUSH to other nations, in what he described as a push to create a universal ‘Jan Andolan’. Kumar went so far as to assert that AYUSH ought to enjoy equal recognition as allopathic medicine.
This is far from a uncontentious issue. While AYUSH can play a role as complementary medicine, to argue for its acknowledgement as an equally valid form of medicine next to allopathy is an easily debunked assertion. Studies have conclusively reflected that alternative systems of medicine often lack effect beyond that of a placebo.
There is no doubt that AYUSH is rising in popularity and prestige in India. There is much doubt, however, as to what extent this is earned. It can also be debated whether diverting funds and resources away from India’s creaking public health infrastructure to fund AYUSH endeavours is really the way forward in ensuring good health for India.