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When Nature Meets Science

Integrative Medicine is the next wave in healthcare

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


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The standard operating procedure is slowly becoming a cliché, at least in healthcare. Ask your neighbour what she does for a cold. In all probabilities, she will give you a host of home remedies from ginger extracts to steam inhalation to water boiled in basil leaves, along with brand names containing cetirizine hydrochloride or antihistamines. Today, slowly but surely, a host of healing methodologies are becoming an integral part of not just our life, but is also now part of formal streams of education related to healing. Customised solutions involving different time-tested practices is the model solution of treating ailments going forward. Darshan Shankar, Chairman of the Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Foundation of Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) says that surveys reveal that 40-70 per cent people exercise pluralistic choice for their health needs. “Integration already exists on the ground. A trans-disciplinary approach is essential to promote integrated healthcare framework.”

One Size Does Not Fit All

Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha (54) is an ayurvedic doctor and the former vice-chancellor of Jamnagar’s Gujarat Ayurveda University and had a robust clinical practice of ayurveda and yoga until his recent appointment as Secretary with the Ministry of AYUSH. The closest and the literal meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘AYUSH’ is age or duration of life. In the Ministry’s case, it stands for a self-explanatory acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy.

Kotecha, with 25 years of experience under his belt, has compelling views on the paradigm shift necessary in the model of the current healthcare scenario.

“We all are different in our genetic designs, customised solution to individual health is the best solution and only an integrative approach to health can provide this,” says Kotecha. He has a vision of an institutional model for integrative medicine where all expertise work hand in hand for benefit of the people with one common goal of quality health for them and not about a practitioner doing all of them at once by them self.

“One size does not fit all. Integrated medicine is the best approach to achieve quality health as it is inclusive and holistic,” he adds.

Today, allopathic practitioners too recommend an integrative healing-based approach to treating patients. Dr. Preeti Chhabra, a senior consultant of Ayurveda at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, too, believes that there is a need for a new model for healthcare. “In the present scenario, it has become imperative to recognise the strengths and filter out the weaknesses of individual systems of medicine; design a model by fine-tuning and blending together the AYUSH systems with the modern systems of medicine,” says Chhabra. “This will ensure holistic care and cure for the ailing humanity,” she says.

Domestic Business Opportunities

Traditional forms of medication have been prevalent in India since thousands of years but the last couple of centuries they have lost their glory. Now, India is witnessing a highly receptive environment where the value of AYUSH system in healthcare is widely recognised worldwide translating into a growing global demand. The last few years a concerted effort is being made by the government and stakeholders across the board to restore the lost luster and faith.

For instance, the government recently hosted International Arogya 2017, an international exhibition and conference on AYUSH and wellness to boost exports of AYUSH products and showcase the strength and scientific validation of traditional systems of medicine including Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homeopathy.

"With a wealth of 6,600 medicinal plants, India is the second largest exporter of AYUSH and herbal products in the world,” said Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Commerce and Industry.

“Though modern medicine is imperative in some cases, it is also a very dangerous form of medicine as it deals with issues in three ways: either it burns, cuts it, or poisons it,” said Pankaj Sahni CEO of Medanta, at the event while highlighting the importance of integrative medicine. To encourage the holistic form of treatment, Medanta has even started a Department of Integrative Medicine (Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga), headed by Dr. G. Geetha Krishnan, also the first AYUSH expert for the WHO.

Krishnan’s expertise is in ayurvedic integrative medicine and botanical drug development and he firmly believes that integrated medicine offers better outcomes, reduces trauma and cost for the patient. “For a practitioner, it offers better clinical tools with which they can deliver personalised and customised medical care to the patients,” he says.

According to Prabhu, “The Indian domestic market of AYUSH is estimated to be Rs 500 crore, while exports amount to Rs 200 crore. Young entrepreneurs planning a startup could find a lot of opportunities in holistic healthcare.” The AYUSH industry is expected to grow in double digits and provide direct employment to 1 million people and indirect employment to 25 million people by 2020,” adds Prabhu.

When it comes to business opportunities, Sahni believes that across the continuum of hospice care from emergencies, to palliative care, to long-term ailments, opportunities abound for integrated medicine depending on where your strengths lie. “Scalability is where the real challenge lies,” he says.

Preventative health, pain management and dealing with non-communicable diseases are also huge areas for business opportunities. "Medical tourism and herbal drug supply are great areas to explore business opportunities,” according to Saji Kumar CEO Dhathri Ayurveda.

Enhancing Exports

Ayush-finished products' export is worth $700 billion and the stand-alone potential of AYUSH raw material export from India is estimated at $3,000 million. There is a huge international market potential, which needs to be exploited according to data revealed by Dr. D.C. Katoch, Advisor, Ministry of AYUSH. “Traditional medicines of Ayurveda and value-added extracts of medicinal herbs products today are exported to more than 100 countries. The Top 10 destinations are the US, Germany, UAE, Italy, Pakistan, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, UK, and Russia,” says Katoch. India exported $404 million (Pharmexcil basket) during 2016-17. With a growth rate of more than 10 per cent over 2015-16, it is estimated that by 2020, India’s exports of AYUSH and value-added products of medicinal herbs could touch $600 million, says Ravi Bhaskar, Director General Pharmexil or the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council.

Meeting The Mark

Just like in allopathic medicines, AYUSH medicines too need to follow strict quality compliance. “AYUSH needs to strongly adhere to the 3 Cs – compliance, claims and clinical trials – to meet International standards and enhance consumer confidence,” says Dr. Deepika Gunawant Senior Consultant Ayurveda and Wellness Max Hospital.

“Although international arenas are opening up for AYUSH, the market is still apprehensive for medicinal products,” says Sanjay Shrivastava, Director, Maharishi Ayurveda. Presently AYUSH products can be exported as food supplements/herbal products etc.

Clearly, it is important that the government put in regulations and provide an ecosystem for small companies so that they can enter the export market armed with relevant regulations and guidelines.

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