India and the US’ shared commitment to promote ayurveda
Promoting ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy, abbreviated as the AYUSH system of medicine, and integrating them into modern methods of therapy was an important point discussed during the Indo-US bilateral engagement to promote health science research, earlier this year.
The ministry of AYUSH and the United States department of health and human services have been facilitating engagements between the institutions of the two countries to promote collaborative research and develop evidence-based guidelines to integrate the AYUSH system with modern medicine. Since the first Indo-US health dialogue was held in September 2015 in New Delhi, a range of activities have been undertaken by the countries to disseminate information about ayurveda. Bilateral meetings were organised, and US agencies visited premier Indian institutions of ayurveda and Unani viz., Banaras Hindu University, All India Institute of Ayurveda, and Jamia, Hamdard, to get first-hand experience on Ayurvedic research and practice in India. Important memoranda of understanding have been signed between the ministry of AYUSH and US institutions, such as the University of Mississippi, the United States Pharmacopeia Convention and most recently, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital at Boston, for cooperation in the field of traditional medicines and to foster academic collaboration in ayurveda. India’s active support and participation in the conferences organised by National Ayurveda Medical Association in the US will further help expand the collaboration base.
The fulfilment of the shared commitment of the leaders on both the sides, to promote ayurveda largely depends on how quickly scientific groups translate the insights and ideas of mutual interest into outcome-driven projects and their efficient implementation.
The main issue today is, given a highly receptive environment for wide recognition of the AYUSH system in the US, how the Indo-US partnership can be leveraged through research and innovations. The first task is to establish the scientific validation of the Ayurvedic products and practices in collaboration with hospitals in the US. For instance, the recent MoU with the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital can be used to demonstrate the efficacy of ayurveda products to alleviate the problems associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and degenerative joint diseases. Institutional mechanisms and processes to standardise ayurveda products and processes should be strengthened in order to supply quality products and services for scientific inquiries. Clinical success may be replicated to validate a series of products and practices for other diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiomyopathy and lifestyle-related ailments.
Indian traditional/herbal medicines may be promoted as a value-added dietary supplement to prevent and treat illnesses. Public standards play an important role in ensuring quality and in building consumer confidence. Monographs should be harmonised for Indian traditional medicines with the United States Pharmacopeia Convention and critical attributes of the herbal ingredients should be defined and adopted in a given context. Such activities should be complemented with building in-house state-of-the-art metrological facilities to measure the analytes of interest in complex herbal matrices, for quality control and assurance.
Research collaboration with the national institute of health in the US will attract scientists doing basic research from institutions of both the countries to help increase the pool of researchers working in the areas of Indian traditional medicine and ayurveda. The use of technologies such as genome engineering and gene editing for commercial production, developing pre-clinical models for rapid testing of products for efficacy and safety, and enhancing the performance of formulation using smart nano-vehicles will make the sector entrepreneurially attractive.
Finally, ayurveda systems of health services require critical mass of trained counsellors, practitioners and doctors. India can serve as the source of practising clinical sites, medical education guidelines and other information on ayurveda, and help institutions in the US develop academic standards and courses, provide clinical training and evolve a system for the recognition of degrees and qualifications. Resource allocation for international commitments should be given top priority by the nodal ministry/department of the two countries to fuel this. Going forward, rich ayurveda tradition of Indian institutions and the clinical capacity of medical institutions in the US should create a platform to develop integrated health care systems and deliver affordable solutions for unmet medical needs.
Dhananjay Kumar Tiwary is counsellor, Science and Technology in Indian Embassy in Washington DC.
The views expressed are personal