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Feature Traditional Medicine

Is ayurveda the key to universal healthcare in India?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 28 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2879
  1. Neena Bhandari , journalist, Sydney
  1. neena{at}

Is ayurvedic medicine a sustainable way to bring healthcare to all Indians, justifying investment in research to build an evidence base in the discipline? Neena Bhandari reports

Many Indians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, think that integrating the ancient medical system of ayurveda with allopathic medicine is the key to providing universal healthcare, perhaps because practitioners of traditional medicine remain the primary healthcare providers for millions of people in South East Asia, especially in rural areas.

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. “Ayur” means “life” and “veda” means “knowledge” in Sanskrit. It is based on the concept that each person’s body (prakriti) comprises three doshas or bodily humours (vata, pitta, and kapha) and that disease results from their imbalance. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support the literal existence of doshas. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe individualised preventive and curative interventions, such as herbal formulations, diet, massage, exercise, yoga, and lifestyle recommendations.1

Medical pluralism has existed for generations in India. Allopathic medicine has made great strides in acute conditions, infection, and surgical interventions, but treatment options are limited for the growing epidemic of non-communicable and lifestyle related diseases. Some practitioners say that ayurveda can help.

The World Health Organization has launched its Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-23.2 It aims to support member states to develop policies and to strengthen the role of traditional medicine in keeping populations healthy.

Making traditional medicine mainstream

Since coming to power in May 2014 the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Modi has focused on making traditional forms of medicine mainstream. The government has established the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) under the independent charge of minister of state Shripad Yesso Naik.

The National AYUSH Mission was launched in September 2014 to complement allopathic medicine, especially in remote rural areas with …

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