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Guest column : How to leverage a global policy revival in traditional medicine

19 May

Ashwin NaikOn Friday, May 13, India committed close to a million dollars to help create a benchmark document for training and practice of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathic medicine. It is indeed a significant commitment and the reinforcement of ongoing efforts by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote traditional health systems strengthening around the world.

What started with the Delhi declaration in 2012-13, with a consortium of South-East Asian countries is now slowly growing into an international collaboration. The Indian government used a country-by-country approach to sign bilateral agreements, starting with information centres in Mexico, Nepal, Malaysia, Russia among others. Continue reading

Does India need a “TripAdvisor” for healthcare?

3 Sep

Early last year, when I finally threw in the towel at my workplace quite a few well-meaning (and possibly alarmed) persons in my circle of family, friends and professional contacts began thinking of ways to keep me gainfully employed.

One such person was my other half. My husband is one of those creative geniuses who always has more ideas than either resources or people to execute them.  Still, that does not dissuade him from “ideating” at all and sundry.  One day, he looked at me vegetating on the sofa- quite happily, I might add – and snapped his fingers. “I know what you should do,” he said quite decisively. “Start a TripAdvisor for healthcare.” Continue reading

Who’s treating you? New data shows extent of non-MBBS docs practising allopathy in India

31 Jul

We already knew it was happening. Now there’s data to show us how pervasive it is.

A large-scale physician and chemist census across India’s top 120 cities and towns by Mumbai-based market research and consultancy firm IMS Health has found that non-M.B.B.S doctors i.e. doctors who don’t hold a degree in medicine accounted for 16 per cent of the total doctor universe that practices allopathy or modern medicine.

These doctors are qualified in alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Homeopathy but 40 per cent or more of their prescriptions are made up of allopathic drugs such as antiobiotics and painkillers.  The census covered over 3,73,000 doctors across the country.

The findings highlight, once again, the need for proactive policy-making to effectively harness and regulate this workforce to shore up the quality and availability of healthcare delivery in under-served areas.

Continue reading

India’s safety culture: an oxymoron?

29 Jul

The regularity with which some or the other Indian company is making news for  taking short cuts has got to be alarming. First it was pharma company Ranbaxy, then Wockhardt. And now it is auto firm -General Motors’ Indian factory.  In each case, employees took short cuts to beat the system and ended up jeopardising safety. (In GM’s case not directly but reportedly via higher-than-permitted emissions). These misdeeds aren’t occurring just in India- companies in other parts of the world have also been in the dock.  Yet, every time some Indian operation hits the headline for this reason, I can’t help thinking about the cavalier attitude to safety visible in this country on a day-to-day basis. Continue reading

Herbal remedies

13 Jun

herbsThe Washington Post reports that the US government spent an eye-popping $2.5bn over the last decade on testing alternative therapies and medicines.  The results were not encouraging though critics suggest that the testing process was flawed.

Be that as it may, this brought me to wonder – as I have for a while – why Indian companies and the government don’t collaborate on clinical trials of Ayurvedic/herbal medicines.  While these medicines claim to be based on our Ayurvedic texts, it is also true that manufacturers have improvised in a number of ways either to enhance efficacy or to claim “proprietary” benefits that allow them to differentiate themselves and/or charge a premium.  But these products are not always adequately tested.

Of course, the government could mandate clinical trials as one recent article written by my colleague Noemie Bisserbe in Businessworld says it will do. Yet, most companies are unlikely to be able to cough up the money nor do they have the expertise to perform trials – or at least those that will bear genuine scientific scrutiny.

Instead, it makes eminent sense for the government and industry to pick broad categories of products and jointly bankroll trials as well as set up a mechanism to perform them on par with international standards. The fact that some of these already have a documented history in our texts will clearly help choose an abbreviated method that does not take years to complete.

Experts have long argued that the model of testing and evaluating allopathic medicines cannot be transposed onto ayurvedic drugs. But that is precisely why we should explore how best to go about testing them in a credible, cost-effective manner.

This will achieve two purposes. It will ensure that products sold to Indian consumers are  helping, and not harming them. Two, there is a huge global market for adequately-tested herbal products which our companies can tap into.

This subject is close to my heart not just because it represents a vast, untapped potential for our companies. I have often relied on herbal medicines to solve vexing health problems that allopathy has no answers for.  They often work but there is a lingering doubt about whether they have done any damage that will surface – perhaps not immediately, but eventually.

For those interested in knowing how companies are taking Ayurveda down a whole different path, past articles in Businessworld and Down to Earth provide some clues

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