Promoting integrative medicine
Three scientific researchers — William Campbell and Satoshi Omura, microbiologists from America and Japan and Chinese pharmacologist Youyou Tu — explored nature to discover herb-based therapeutic compounds that effectively fights malaria, lymphatic filariasis and river blindness causing parasites. And regretfully, India, whose ancient scriptures documented the efficacies of innumerable herbs, metals and minerals available in abundance, failed to modernize this traditional form of healing by not pursuing the readily obtainable scientific evidences so essential to establish the safety and efficacy of any form of drugs meant for human or animal consumption.
It is a pity that the country’s vast repertoire of wisdom about the medicinal values of precious natural wealth was hardly exploited, this despite ancient India having played a significant role in development of medicine, especially surgical procedures and associated medical ethics. Monumental manuscripts of ancient medical treatises with seminal values have in fact received international acclaim. Yet, India somehow failed to realize that strengthening complementary and alternative medicine and integrating it into the mainstream could have been the nation’s answer to making health care less expensive. A fresh approach to popular health care that rests on building synergies between traditional and modern medicine can revolutionize Indian medical system and benefit the common man, who more often than not struggles to meet the high cost of modern day health care.
Experts believe, India has enormous potential in herb-based medicine but there is an urgent need to institutionalize the process of research and development. India does have a catalogue of exclusive herbs, whose medicinal values are inscribed in ancient texts. But given such primitive data, coupled with inconsistencies due to lack of solid empirical evidences and vulnerability to misinterpretation, this stream of medicine has been ignored by the medical community by and large. Besides, a shady regulatory environment has further hampered the advancement of alternative medicine in India. Worse still, very little has been done to prove the consistency of these wonder herbs and minerals that can revolutionize the healing process in medically unfit people.
A leading alternative medicine professional once lamented the lack of sincerity and professionalism in alternative drug development protocol, during a private conversation. “Neither the government nor the masses are aware of the tremendous potential of these remedies in the cure of even chronic diseases” stated the gentleman who initiated a research and development project to standardize medicines derived from natural sources. According to him, in the wake of massive development in epidemiology and clinical research, alternative healthcare must evolve into an evidence-based, healing oriented medicinal stream, with continuous efforts at measuring, reporting and improving quality. A lot of dedication must go into the process of developing remedies by applying latest scientific techniques.
Youyou Tu and her team found a reference to the use of sweet wormwood, rich in artemisinin, in a Chinese text, which dates back to 400AD. From a large-scale screen of anti-malaria remedies, an extract from the plant Artemisia annua emerged as the most potent compound, though the results were found to be inconsistent. Hence, Tu revisited the ancient literature and discovered clues that guided her in her quest to successfully extract the active component from Artemisia herb. India is in need of hundreds of Tu-like medical researchers and professionals, who have an understanding of ancient medicines and can lead the nation to the path of manufacturing potent drugs to fight diseases, primarily arising out of lifestyle alteration in the present age.
Tu, the first Chinese lady to win a Nobel had no medical degree, no doctorate and did not spent time working overseas when she discovered the efficacy of artemsinin on malaria carrying parasites in 1972. Her research was published anonymously in 1977 and yet, she never bowed down and even volunteered to become the first human to be treated with this new drug. And today, her pioneering work is credited with saving millions around the world, including India, which is home to malaria and other deadly tropical viral diseases like chikungunya, dengue et al. Malaria alone caused 535 deaths in 2014 as the rapid spread of Dengue has created panic in society. According to government data, recorded dengue cases rose from 15535 in 2009 to 35422, till Sept. 30, 2015. Reports of drug resistant variety of viral diseases detected in India’s periphery should act as a catalyst for more research work on alternative medicine therapy to augment allopathic treatment or provide effective independent remedy.
Thankfully, one can see a ray of hope as the government is taking keen interest in promoting traditional system of medicines like ayurveda, unani, siddha and homeopathy, prevalent in India since ages. There has been an upgradation in the status of the department dealing with these branches of medicine along with a rise in budgetary allocations. Research and observational studies are being commissioned to gather and document evidence on use of ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines apart from encouraging clinical trials and cohort studies. Besides, India’s premier scientific R&D organization, CSIR, has already launched the maiden scientifically validated ayurvedic drugs for diabetes management. A vast majority of Indians, with limited income source, and the senior citizens living on pensions, are in need of a holistic and affordable model that focuses on curative and preventive healthcare. And, integrative medicine might just be the perfect panacea.
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