Indian Traditional Medicine Systems in G20
By Sarbananda Sonowal
Today the world recognises India as a treasure trove of a continuum of traditional knowledge in the field of affordable and evidence-based healthcare facilities, mainly due to its demonstrated efficacy in Ayurveda and Yoga. India’s G20 Presidency provided a golden chance to showcase this efficacy more intimately to world leaders and healthcare experts in a very focused manner. The Ministry of Ayush actively participated in all relevant deliberations to communicate to the global community how traditional healthcare sciences of India have been performing to negotiate the ever-growing challenges of humanity and the environment while remaining focused on SDG 3 of “Good Health and Wellbeing”.
It is quite evident now that the health seeking behaviours of global community have changed drastically after COVID and it has shifted towards Holistic Health and Wellbeing. Providing high quality, affordable and accessible healthcare services in an equitable manner is what humanity needs now. Various initiatives of the Ministry of Ayush during the last 9 years have infused modern technological tools and modern methodologies in various traditional medicine systems which have resulted in tremendous growth of the evidence-based Ayush sector as a whole.
It would be pertinent to remind that, during the third session of G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the 5 A’s with respect to health services – Accessible, Affordable, Appropriate, Accountable and Adaptable. The Ministry of Ayush has been persistently contributing along these dimensions and during the wider discussions under the G20 presidency of India the ministry demonstrated at various events/seminars that it has all the requisite wherewithal to (a) promote global collaboration and cooperation within G20 countries for R&D and standardise regulatory guidelines for Traditional Medicine; (b) engage stakeholders from the industry to facilitate knowledge sharing, capacity building and best practices. The ministry worked closely with various G20 engagement and Working Groups to identify potential areas of collaboration and partnerships.
The Health Working Group under G20 is established to enhance dialogue and inform G20 leaders on important global health issues and the group works towards achieving equitable health for the present and future generations. The Ayush Ministry proactively participated in all the Health Working Group events during India’s presidency. All this culminated in the first WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on 17-18 August. The summit was a huge success in terms of participation, exchange of ideas and experiences; and charting out future strategies both for the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Jamnagar, Gujarat and the WHO TM Strategy 2025-35 document.
Appreciating the efforts of the government of India in traditional medicine, Dr Tedros, DG, WHO, reaffirmed the undeniable contribution of India in TM during this global summit. It’s worth noting that the outcome document of this global summit is going to be shortly declared by the WHO as Gujarat Declaration.
Recently, a stock taking exercise was undertaken by the Ministry of Ayush under the chairmanship of G20 Sherpa, Amitabh Kant in July in Delhi. The meeting focused on endeavours of the Ministry of Ayush in promoting Ayush systems of medicine at global level through G20. While suggesting the infusion of innovative technologies and novel approaches within the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM), Amitabh Kant elaborated how infusion would modernise traditional practices and enhance their effectiveness, leading to broader acceptance and utilisation of traditional medicine. He underlined the need for better collaboration among stakeholders to integrate the principles of traditional medicine across all G20 engagement groups.
The efforts of the Ministry of Ayush in various Engagement and Working group meetings of G20 have certainly had their impact. It was evident in this meeting when in the remarks of Lav Aggarwal, Additional Secretary, MoHFW, he affirmed the inclusion of traditional medicine in MoHFW’s forthcoming health declaration during India’s G20 presidency. He also expressed the need for the inception of a dedicated forum for Traditional Medicine to provide a robust platform for experts and stakeholders to collaborate on and explore the full potential of traditional healing practices in the context of modern healthcare. In the same meeting, Chintan Vaishnav, India Chair for Startup 20, mentioned that Ayush system of medicine has been included in the list of Startup20 agenda shaping the future, which shall be taken forward under the next G20 presidency chaired by Brazil.
With its state-of-the-art hospitals and highly skilled doctors, India has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for medical tourism. To further promote medical tourism in the country, the first Health Working Group in Thiruvananthapuram organised the side event on medical value travel. It was a productive and insightful forum for discussing the opportunities and challenges in the medical tourism industry in India. It was observed by many stakeholders here that connecting the world through medical value travel based on integrated healthcare, which involves traditional medicine systems in a robust manner, will serve the purpose of addressing disparities in the existing healthcare systems.
It is noteworthy that Ayush industry has gone through a significant transition during recent years. According to market research reports, the market has grown by more than 17 percent per year and it is estimated to have reached more than US$ 23.3 billion. These numbers are overwhelming by any industry standards. The growing popularity and acceptance of Ayush is attributed to increased awareness, scientific validation, government support, global reach, lifestyle trends, and the personalised approach offered by Ayush systems. As more people experience the benefits of Ayush practices, its acceptance and integration into mainstream healthcare are likely to continue growing.
On one front, it reflects enormous growth opportunities in Ayush sector, but associated challenges are also there with this exponential growth. The challenges can be seen in the domains of safety, efficacy, transparency, trust and ethical practices.
The increasing popularity also brings up instances where misleading claims have created trust issues among the public. The Government of India has taken several steps to address the issue of misleading information, including in the context of advertising and consumer protection. The journey to ensure safety and transparency in its operations and promote trust in the field of Ayush had started since the very establishment of Ministry of Ayush in year 2014.
During these years, ministry has proactively taken steps by strengthening its Pharmaco vigilance programme, which has been developed as a robust mechanism for surveillance of misleading advertisements. Along with this, other rules and regulations related to misleading advertisements are equally effective in dealing with such mischievous instances.
One of the key initiatives undertaken is the implementation of robust pharmaco-vigilance programmes. These programmes are designed to monitor the safety of Ayush medicines and gather data on adverse events or side effects. This programme collects, analyses, and responds to reports of adverse events, ensuring that the safety profile of Ayush medicines is continually monitored.
The ministry has emphasised the importance of regulatory compliance and adherence to established guidelines. It has implemented a regulatory framework for Ayush medicines, which includes licensing and certification processes for manufacturers, importers and distributors. Furthermore, the ministry has focused on promoting research and evidence-based practices in the field of Ayush. It encourages rigorous scientific studies and clinical trials to validate the efficacy and safety of Ayush treatments.
The Ministry of Ayush collaborates with regulatory authorities; both nationally and internationally, to exchange information, share best practices, and strengthen regulatory oversight of Ayush medicines. This collaboration helps to ensure that safety standards are consistent and aligned with global practices. During the recent WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit in Gandhinagar, intense deliberations were held on this topic, which resulted in enhanced scope of synergised action in this area among participating countries.
In a nutshell, the G20 presidency engagements during the last couple of months provided an excellent opportunity to various Indian traditional medicine systems to showcase and share the evidence-based efficacy of TM. It also strengthened the hope and confidence of all stakeholders of the traditional medicine sector across the country and the globe that Indian Traditional Medicine systems are equipped with all necessary wherewithal to serve the humanity to achieve the lofty goal of universal health coverage.
(Sarbananda Sonowal is Union Minister of Ayush and Ports, Shipping & Waterways)