Viewpoint: India's traditional medicine systems

24 APR,2022 | MEDC


  • The establishment of the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in India (at Jamnagar) will usher in a new global era of traditional medicine. It is unfortunate that traditional and herbal medicines have often been neglected in their country of origin. Covid has alerted us to the fact that traditional medicine does have a strategic role to play in holistic healthcare. Although it is important to be disease-free, the ultimate goal of human life should be a sense of wellbeing. That is precisely where Ayurveda and other traditional Indian medicine systems enter the picture. They have a key role to play in promoting global health and a sense of wellness in the face of today’s stressed and hectic lifestyles, and need to be marketed better to an international audience.
  • From the economic perspective, the cultivation of medicinal plants has become a lucrative agribusiness. This is largely due to the increasing use of relatively safe and inexpensive plant-based remedies for common ailments. With rapid deforestation, many traditional and medicinal plants are now grown on agricultural lands to meet their rising demand from the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and other industries. Most medicinal plants do not require substantial monetary investment or large landholdings to grow, but have the potential to give high financial returns if marketed astutely, especially overseas. Policymakers need to find a way to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the country using modern science and technology to provide better results.
  • India is endowed with a huge and diversified wealth of plant species having curative properties. Of about 18,000 types of plants found in the country’s 15 well-defined agro-climatic zones, around half are believed to possess some kind of therapeutic properties. This is a goldmine that should be properly tapped and marketed. If necessary, the middlemen in the chain, who often play an exploitative role in the marketing of these products to the general public, need to be removed from the picture. 
  • India has a lot to teach the world about sustainability and healthy environmental practices, and much of it boils down to a nature-compatible lifestyle revolving around the appreciation and application of traditional and herbal remedies. Given our history of material scarcity, India is one of the least wasteful economies. In many rural parts of the country at least, humans and nature share a unique and harmonious relationship, going as far as reverence for various flora and fauna. This has aided biodiversity conservation efforts and can be leveraged by policymakers to promote our traditional and herbal medicines within a larger socioeconomic context. Doing so will jumpstart the economy as a whole, through both domestic consumption and exports.
  • Both India and the world have a long and challenging road ahead in dealing with environmental issues, and learning to live sustainably. The appropriate integration of herbal and traditional medicines in daily life will go far in aiding this endeavour. We need to realize that development is more than purely economic, and sustainable development involving the promotion of traditional lifestyles and medicines is a collective societal responsibility. As a byproduct of globalization, all of us should come together to learn from each other, and draw and implement cost-effective lessons in daily living from both traditional medical wisdom (in which India abounds) and modern scientific knowledge.

*Picture Credit: Google


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