April 26, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we debate whether the WHO’s decision to set up a centre for traditional medicine is a wise move. We also look at why BJP is protesting that the Congress party is politicising education in Rajasthan, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
WHO’s Global Centre for Traditional Medicine – Welcome Move or Wrong Remedy?
The early weeks and months of the pandemic were scary for several reasons. Key among them was that we didn’t know what would be the best treatment against Covid-19. As scientists and doctors raced to study the virus, we eventually got a vaccine thanks to ‘western medicine’. It’s western medicine because the research, technology, and methodologies basically originated there. Does traditional medicine like Ayurveda play a role? Does it have a future?
Recently, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus and Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the ground-breaking ceremony for a first-of-its-kind WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The hope is that this will enhance Indian traditional medicine’s standing in the world and help the domestic healthcare scene.
But is propagating traditional medicine a risk for public health? Or does it have enormous untapped potential that needs to be communicated better?
The GCTM was the centrepiece of Dr Ghebreyesus’s visit to India and his meeting with Modi. It coincided with the convening of the Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit (GAIIS). According to the WHO, the Centre will harness the potential of traditional medicine, which can be a game-changer for domestic and global healthcare. India is the lead investor in the GCTM with an estimated $250 million to support its establishment, infrastructure, and operations.
What exactly is traditional medicine? According to the WHO, it is the sum total of knowledge, skills, and practices indigenous to different cultures used in a wide array of healthcare capabilities like diagnosis, treatment, etc. The WHO also states that while traditional medicine is often considered a long-established historical and cultural practice, it’s also contributing to the expansion of modern science.
Much of the news over the past couple of years concerning the WHO has been about the coronavirus pandemic and the race to get a vaccine made and distributed. However, it does have a dedicated traditional medicine strategy. The crux of it is to harness its potential, ensure best practices in usage and regulate.
Traditional medicine is quite broad, per the WHO’s definition. In India, traditional medicine has many varieties like Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy, Yoga, and Naturopathy. Ayurveda is arguably the most well-known. It has its roots in the Indian subcontinent. Its therapies and usage have evolved over two millennia to include herbal medicines, special diets, and even yoga, to name a few. The Ayurveda texts begin with the transmission of medical knowledge from gods to sages and then to humans.
When it comes to government oversight of traditional medicines in India, the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy was established in 1995 to support and promote traditional medicine. It was renamed the Ayush ministry in 2014.
In India, medicinal plants are also quite common. The Indian government has taken measures to promote the cultivation and export of medicinal plants. The National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) offers a 75% subsidy to farmers apart from other financial assistance. Broadly speaking, the production and cultivation of medicinal plants in India are mostly unorganised.
VIEW: Traditional medicine here to stay
It’s here to stay because people use them and are likely to continue in the years ahead. The WHO estimates that around 80% of the world’s population uses some kind of traditional medicine. 170 WHO member countries have reported using traditional medicine. In fact, in 2018, the WHO adopted the Astana Declaration that called for the strengthening of primary healthcare. Part of this, which has all 194 member countries as signatories, includes appropriate traditional medicines and practices.
Economically speaking, traditional medicine is here to stay. According to a Global Herbal Market Trajectory report on Herbal medicines, the sector is projected to grow to $430.05 billion by 2028. There’s also interest from abroad. At the recent Global Ayush summit, letters of interest worth more than ₹9,000 crores were reported. Among the sectors of interest was medical value travel, i.e., Heal in India.
India also has 15 agroclimatic zones that have approximately 18,000 varieties of plants. Of this, almost 7,000 have therapeutic properties. According to 2019 All India Trade Survey of Prioritised Medicinal Plants, demand for high-value medicinal plants increased by 50%. The market for medicinal plants in India was $56.6 million in 2019. It’s expected to reach $188.6 million by 2026.
Coming to the pandemic, there is some evidence that Ayurveda could help manage it. The medical journal, J-AIM from the Centre of Excellence for Integrative Health, Pune University, compiled peer-reviewed case studies. It showed physicians managed respiratory symptoms, fatigue, and fevers with small doses. Darshan Shankar from the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Bengaluru, cited a 2005 paper by Professor Bhushan Patwardhan on the relation between Ayurveda and biology.
COUNTERVIEW: Still a murky sector
There is still a lot of concern and scepticism from several corners of the medical and scientific community. Allopathic medicine, for example, the Covid-19 vaccine, had to go through rigorous trials at each stage, with granular data being studied thoroughly by experts. There’s still not the same level of strict oversight and control for traditional medicine. The null hypothesis is the starting point for every drug trial, i.e., the treatment is no better than the placebo. The proof is in the treatment.
The Indian government’s push for traditional remedies in treating Covid-19 was criticised by the Indian Medical Association (IMA). One example was the Health Ministry recommending Ayurveda for mild cases. This was especially concerning as the side effects of such traditional medicines were unknown. With this comes the legal ramifications of treating people with untested drugs, effectively making them non-consenting test subjects.
It would be wrong to consider traditional medicine as an alternative to allopathic medicine in treating all diseases. There’s still a lot of quackery and fraud in traditional medicine. The IMA states a lack of awareness among state governments, legislatures, the judiciary, and even the medical profession on the threats of fake medical professionals and practices. Some state governments have issued notifications under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act/Rules of 1945 to conflate the practice of modern medicine with traditional medicine, which is problematic.
The growth of the traditional medicine sector depends on the demand and supply of medicinal plants. Since supply is not the same as demand, it has led to increased habitat degradation. Pharmaceutical companies have also over-exploited ecologically sensitive zones resulting in dozens of species falling into the endangered species list.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) WHO’s Global Centre for Traditional Medicine is a welcome move.
b) WHO’s Global Centre for Traditional Medicine is an unwise move.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Bulldozer justice goes against the spirit of India@75. Hurts everyone, helps none
For the Left:
The Big Problem With PK’s ‘Plan’ For Congress
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Officially Covid free (Nagaland) – This Sunday, Nagaland became the first state in the country to become virtually free of the coronavirus. As of this weekend, there was only one active Covid patient in the Dimapur district. This is the first time since 25 May 2020 that the state has recorded no new cases of the virus. In general, the state has witnessed a recovery rate of 93.68%, with the death toll reaching 760 till now.
Why it matters: This comes in stark contrast to the rest of the country. In at least 12 other states, the number of fresh Covid cases has almost doubled in a week. Karnataka saw a 71% increase in cases last week, Tamil Nadu came in with a 62% rise and West Bengal with a 66% hike. Karnataka Health Minister K Sudhakar even told the Centre that India is likely to witness a 4th wave in August.
Challenging abrogation (Jammu & Kashmir) – After more than 2 years, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana has said that a Supreme Court bench might list the petitions against the abrogation of Article 370. As of now, it seems as though the case might be listed after their summer holidays that begin on 23 May and end on 11 July. It is also important to note that the CJI is set to retire on 26 August of this year.
Why it matters: Several petitions challenging the Presidential Order of 5 August 2019 have been submitted to the Supreme Court. Since 1954, as per the Instrument of Accession, special rights were given to Jammu & Kashmir by using Article 35A of the Constitution. Since this was done via a Presidential Order and the Parliament wasn’t consulted, the current administration deemed it wise to undo Article 370 completely.
The oldest fortified settlement (Odisha) – The Asurgarh fortified settlement in Odisha has officially become its oldest major fortified settlement, dating back to the 9th century BC. Archaeologists used the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon technique to determine that the Asurgarh era spanned over 3 cultural phases, ending in the 2-3 century AD.
Why it matters: The 3 periods of human occupation can be divided into the Iron Age (9th century BC to 4th century BC), the Historic or Rampart phase (2nd century BC to 1st century AD) and the Late Period/Decline of the settlement (2nd century AD to 3rd-4th century AD). Analysts believe that this occupation might have declined due to territorial expansion by its neighbours, the Satavahana and early Gupta dynasties.
Politicising education (Rajasthan) – On 21 April, the political science paper of the Class 12 state board exam featured 6 questions about the Congress party. And the Opposition BJP is not happy about this. The questions featured several Indian polity classics like the originator of the “Garibi Hatao” slogan and the Congress as an ideological alliance. According to the BJP, 8 questions were related to the Congress and 6 were about its achievements.
Why it matters: Since it was a political science paper, it also included questions regarding the BSP, our Communist parties, the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the 1989 National Front government and international relations. Yet, BJP state president Satish Poonia questioned the integrity of the paper, calling it a “Congress history paper”. BJP MLA and chief spokesperson Ramlal Sharma also accused the state of politicising education.
Pub extensions (Telangana) – Pub owners of Hyderabad have urged the government and Telangana Prohibition and Excise officials to extend the closing time for their establishments by another hour. Right now, the pubs in the city are directed to close doors by 12 am on weekdays and 1 am on weekends, i.e. Fridays and Saturdays.
Why it matters: As per sources in the government, the likelihood of this happening is little to none. Especially after the Hyderabad police Task Force allegedly seized drugs at a local pub. To curb the drug menace in the city, the pubs have also been ordered to install CCTV cameras covering the entire premises. These cameras are also supposed to be linked with the excise department.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
48 billion – According to ACI Worldwide’s latest report, in 2021, India accounted for the most number of real-time transactions worldwide, i.e. 48 billion transactions. Real-time payments made up 31.3% of all payment transactions in India that year.