Panel defends India's traditional doctors

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 31 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1569
  1. Ganapati Mudur
  1. New Delhi

    Recent attempts to prevent doctors of traditional medicine in India from prescribing modern drugs will mean denying appropriate and timely treatment to millions of patients across the country, a panel of experts has said. The panel urged the Indian government to allow traditional doctors to continue to prescribe certain essential drugs to patients.

    The panel, which included traditional doctors-as well as doctors of modern medicine, representatives of the traditional drugs industry, and academics-conceded that “cross system practice” prevalent in India has given rise to instances of drug misuse. However the panel's report said that an absolute ban on cross system practice will cripple public health services in the country.


    Many people in India have access to traditional doctors only


    India's one million registered medical practitioners include at least 450 000 doctors who hold government recognised qualifications in ancient systems of medicine-ayurveda, unani, and siddha. The degrees are granted after five years of education in colleges set up exclusively for training in traditional medicine. Traditional doctors participate in public health programmes, including infant immunisation schemes, and help to diagnose and treat illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis.

    Recently the traditional medical community has been criticised for prescribing modern drugs without adequate knowledge of pharmacology and for entering modern medicine “by the back door.” Last year the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a doctor qualified in one system of medicine who practises another system of medicine could be charged with quackery and medical negligence.

    The judgment prompted drug authorities in two Indians states-Maharashtra and Gujarat-to order retail chemists not to honour prescriptions that involve cross system practice. Traditional doctors have appealed against those orders.

    Narendra Bhatt, a panel member and secretary general of the Indian Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine, said: “Vast sections of the population have no access to modern allopathic doctors.”

    The panel has recommended that drug regulatory authorities should draw up a list of lifesaving and essential drugs that doctors from any system of medicine could prescribe. Medical councils should also create a syllabus that integrates aspects of different systems of medicine leading to a basic medical degree.

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