"Traditional Medicines Impacted By Social Media Infodemic": Minister

The Global Ayush Summit is being organised in Gujarat, which will also see the presence of WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.

'Traditional Medicines Impacted By Social Media Infodemic': Minister

Sarbananda Sonowal spoke about the challenges traditional Indian medicines are facing.

The Ministry of Ayush, along with the Government of Gujarat, is organising the Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit (GAIIS) from April 20-22. The event will be graced by the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mauritius PM Pravind Jugnauth and the Director General of World health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.

Ahead of the summit, Union Minister (Ayush), Sarbananda Sonowal, spoke to NDTV.com where he talked about the need for organising a global summit, the challenges traditional Indian medicines are facing and the role Ayush played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: What is the need for organising a Global Ayush Summit?

Sarbananda Sonowal: In the aftermath of the pandemic, the collective belief in traditional medicines has increased all over the world. Even today, in most countries of the world a large portion of the population still relies on traditional medicine as their first point of cure.

To foster innovation, there is a need for investment. The objective of the Global Ayush Summit is to bring together investors, policymakers, and international as well national stakeholders to see the progress that the sector has made and how with the right impetus the sector can grow and benefit the people and planet. The Ayush sector has been acknowledged worldwide, and we believe that it's the responsibility of our ministry to ensure the benefits of our Ayush knowledge, through summits like these, reach every nook and corner possible in the world. Additionally, there has also been an uptick amongst the youth when it comes to traditional medicine, and we want to pique more interest with the summit among young traditional medicine practitioners, healthcare staff and start-ups to take traditional medicine mechanisms to the world.

Q: What are your expectations from the Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit?

Sarbananda Sonowal: Our expectations are to be able to showcase the potential and innovation of traditional medicines. We shall do so by demonstrating how the Ministry of Ayush is creating a conducive environment to invigorate innovation and entrepreneurship by creating new horizons in the domains of technology, aggregation and blockchain initiative. This will help bring investments into a sector that has seen immense growth in the last few years.

By the end of the summit, we want to prove to people around the world that traditional medicines can allow for more personal autonomy and control over healthcare decisions. The event will also ensure that India is positioned as a global Ayush destination.

Q: Has the government of India or the ministry put a number to the quantum of investment that it expects to garner during the summit?

Sarbananda Sonowal: Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit will be having investors' meet and industry dialogues, wherein allopathy and pharma sector are likely to witness the potential of the Ayush sector and also the innovative technologies being used in the allopathy sector. It is expected that more investors may be inclined to invest in the Ayush sector. The summit may further help in creating an ecosystem for investment in Ayush and also in adopting the latest technologies by Ayush pharma sector.

Q: WHO chief will be participating in the Ayush summit. Do you think it will help in securing global recognition to traditional Indian medicine systems?

Sarbananda Sonowal: Indian traditional medicine systems are already recognised globally. India has been the centre for traditional medical systems - Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy for thousands of years.

The fact that the first Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) is being set up in India is an acknowledgment of the same. It's one focal melting point, for the development and knowledge-sharing of affordable and holistic healthcare that will positively impact lives across the globe. The presence of Dr Tedros at the Ayush summit is heartening for us and will certainly support the elevation of Indian traditional medicine systems in the world's eyes.

Q: What according to you are the main challenges that Ayush is facing in becoming a robust alternative to modern medicine?

Sarbananda Sonowal: The efficacy of traditional medicines versus the rest is always debated. It is also because old systems haven't been able to get the same mileage as the modern ones.

Traditional medicine too, like everything, is impacted by social media "infodemic". However, with the strong backing of the WHO, we hope to get more support and adoption for Ayush in India and across the globe.

We really believe that the GCTM development and the Ayush summit will help enforce the efficacy and the innovation that this system of medicine is capable of. I trust that our efforts will push the curative properties and benefits of our traditional medicine systems to the forefront.

Q: The growing popularity of Yoga and Ayurveda across the world presents us with a ready market. What has the Indian government done to promote Ayurveda throughout the world?

Sarbananda Sonowal: Even today, about 80 per cent of the world relies on traditional medicine for primary health care.

Our government has always promoted Yoga and Ayurveda in the world. Our constant engagement with stakeholders has led to the establishment of the International Yoga Day and we have seen immense growth in the Ayush sector in the last few years. Even during the pandemic, people turned towards traditional medicine systems.

According to the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) report, the market size of Ayush has grown by 17 per cent from 2014 to 2020 to reach $18.1 billion. Globally, we have been growing at a very fast pace as well. From 0.5 per cent of the market share in 2016, we have now grown to 2.8 per cent and are projected to grow even more. We are on track to reach our $23.3 billion market size target in 2022. We are very committed to the success of the sector and promoting our traditional medicine systems in the world and hope that through the investment summit, we are successful in getting investments to promote it and grow it further.

Q: What are the government's initiatives to promote Ayush and bring about synergies between traditional and modern medicine systems?

Sarbananda Sonowal: The ministry has carried out an enormous number of reforms lately. To name a few, in 2021, the ministry introduced an online application system to make the processes of granting licenses to manufacture traditional medicine easier and more transparent. There was also an MoU that was signed between the Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Medicine & Homoeopathy (PCIM&H) and American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, USA to help in strengthening, promoting, and developing standards in the field of Ayurveda and other Indian Traditional medicines.

Additionally, Ayurveda departments are to be opened at 19 AIIMS institutes as a step of integrative health services. Ministry of Ayush, along with the Bureau of Indian Standards, is in process of formulating standards for Ayush systems. This endeavour will help in augmenting the international trade-related to Ayush products, services, and equipment's across the 165 member states of ISO. 

The Ministry of Ayush is working closely with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to collaborate in mainstreaming the use of traditional medicines. Inter-ministerial meetings are going on and action plans, implementation strategies, etc are being finalised.  

Our constant endeavour is to strengthen, develop and promote standards within the Ayush sector so that more people can experience and believe in the benefits behind Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems that are deeply rooted in modern science.

Q: What role the Ayush ministry played during the COVID-19 pandemic and are there any plans to integrate the learning in curriculum of the Ayurvedic doctors?

Sarbananda Sonowal: To combat the pandemic, the Ministry of Ayush has taken various initiatives since the pandemic struck India. For instance, the ministry issued various self-care/home care, preventive, therapeutic, and practitioner's guidelines and advisories related to COVID, long COVID, and post-COVID management from time to time. The Ministry of Ayush collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as with State/UT governments to train and deploy Ayush human resources for COVID management related activities. The states/UTs were advised to utilise Ayush infrastructure including more than 50,000 beds, hospitals of more than 750 Ayush colleges, and 86 clinical facilities of National Institutes and Research Councils under the Ministry by appropriately converting them into COVID related facilities.  

The Ministry of Ayush has undertaken several R&D initiatives to harness the potential of Ayush systems in containing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through research councils and National Institutes under the Ministry and by collaborating with several research organizations to encourage, promote, and advance evidence-based research on Ayush systems. These efforts have resulted in the commencement of 142 research studies of the Ayush systems related to Covid-19.

The ministry has also operationalised a dedicated community support helpline through toll-free number 14443 to provide Ayush-based solutions and support for the challenges that emerged due to COVID -19.

The Ministry of Ayush launched a nationwide distribution campaign of Ayush 64, through 86 clinical units of research councils and national institutes across the country.

To disseminate the information on COVID-19-related Ayush R&D initiatives, and scientific publications, a national repository has been developed. This is available on the Ayush Research Portal of the Ministry of Ayush.