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The Prevalence of Traditional and Modern Medicine in India

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In ancient times, there was no hospitals, clinic, nursing home, dispensary etc. nature was the answer to all problems of man. In times of discomfort, disease or illness man searched for the surrounding elements- air, water, fire, soil, plants and trees, animals and many other things. He learn, do experiments, watch to make use of the nature; its healing and curative properties. Centuries of learning, observation and sharing of knowledge helps man to develop various systems of healing which we now call as ancient or traditional healthcare system or therapies.

Traditional knowledge (TK) is the knowledge gained by various communities, tribes across the globe and has been passed down through several generations. Traditional ecological knowledge, the knowledge that has been gained by native people who have resided at a particular area for generations. Traditional environmental knowledge is beliefs and knowledge transmitted through oral traditions and first hand observation. The quantity and quality of TEK varies among community members, depending upon gender, age, social status, intellectual capability of profession. Indigenous knowledge comprises of theories, concepts and facts about the interconnection and behaviour of conscious and lifeless surroundings of indigenous people. It is culture specific, the basis for survival tactics and decision making is vibrant based on innovation, variation and testing. It is oral or rural in nature.

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The Importance of Traditional Knowledge

It plays an important role in the conservation of biodiversity

  1. “Farmers and livestock keepers have nurtured and improved different varieties of crops and farm animals over generations.
  2. Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda, Unani, siddha, yoga and naturopathy) are part of official healthcare system in India, and depend on a diversity of biological resources and traditional knowledge.
  3. All over Indian local communities have independently conserved wild areas including natural ecosystem, sometimes deemed to be sacred”.

It is very valuable in a range of sectors. Industries use this knowledge to produce commercial products, without the consent or without acknowledging the real holders of the knowledge. The exploitation of resources and knowledge of tribal people arises when these industries without consent start using it commercially or when asked for Intellectual property rights or exclusive rights are claimed by them over such resources/knowledge.

Traditional Knowledge And Health Care

Himalayan sage- scholars who practised traditional medicine said “Nanaushadi bhootam jagat kinchit” which means, there is no plant in world which doesn’t have medicinal properties.The knowledge developed by rural and tribal groups in different parts of world and transferred to one generation from another in the oral form is the most valuable system. It covers mainly animal and human health besides the knowledge related to food, agriculture, handicrafts, soil conservation, moisture conservation etc. Using of plants as a well-developed system for health related problems has been in India since time immemorial (Vedic period in India around 3000 BC). Due to the strong foots the Indian system of medicine is still valued and lively. It is providing health, livelihood and security to the needs of India’s people especially rural and tribal communities. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) around 80% of world’s population have used indigenous system of healthcare at one time or the other.[footnoteRef:4] In the last few years alternative medicine based on TK have gained recognition across the globe. [4: Supra (n2).]

India has 6 recognised system of medicine. They are Ayurveda, yoga, Unani, siddha, naturopathy and homoeopathy. Homoeopathy being the latest (18th century) and is related to Indian culture, enriched like any other traditional system. These are main traditional system of India but there are roots of other therapies as well like Aroma, Photo, Music, Leech etc. any culture that dates back has wealth of wisdom.

AYURVED: Ayurveda means the science of life. It was the first medical approach towards matters of health and disease. Unlike other system where results were obtained through use of therapy and drugs based on conceptual framework, it was more towards philosophical framework determining therapeutic practice with good effects. It takes into consideration philosophical, physical, psychological, ethical and spiritual well- being of mankind. It lays emphasis on living in harmony with universe and harmony of nature and science. It explains the importance of proper lifestyle for maintaining good health. This concept was in practice since two millennium and modern practitioners have now taken it into consideration.

SIDDHA: System of medicine which was prevalent in south India mostly. The word siddha comes from Tamil language which means perfection or achievement Siddha promotes living in harmony and poise with nature around us focusing on lifestyle, diet and exercise. The balance of human body is considered as health and its imbalance cause disease. There is equal stress on the body, mind and spirit and attempts to restore innate harmony of individual.

UNANI: It is originated from Greece (Unan). It is known by many different names, Arab medicine, Ionian medicine, Greco-Arabs medicine and oriental medicine. As per unani system disease is a natural process and symptoms are body’s reaction to them. Human body has self-defence power. Unani enables body to recover and strengthen this balance. Before the actual treatment, patient’s pulse is examined, symptoms of patient urine and stool tests are done. Its aim is to protect body natural processes without any side effects. [6: Ibid]

India has a rich abundance of this knowledge. The traditional system is of great importance to Indians as it was the base for communities to survive. Welfare of tribal people is based on traditional medicines they derive from plants and other natural products. In earlier times as there were no medical facilities still people use to get medication of their ailment. The medication use by earlier people was mostly based on plants and their knowledge. And today this medication (including Ayurveda, unani, siddha etc.) has gained so much importance because it doesn’t have any side effects. They make take time but heal a person’s ailment to a great extent. Traditional knowledge has been most impactful in the field of health care.

Barriers faced by these two system of knowledge is that the difference in perspective of indigenous people and policy makers. Scientist become doubtful about the credibility of indigenous knowledge gathered through interviews. Some may reject traditional knowledge as it is anecdotal, subjective, and unscientific.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The CBD is the major international instrument which recognises the role of TK, innovations and practices of indigenous and local tribes. However its scope is limited to genetic materials. The prime objective of article 1 is to conserve biological diversity and to provide access to this resources for utilization. The signatories are required to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge of indigenous people. The term “traditional” implies all notions of historical significance. This convention bestow ownership of knowledge, innovation and practices upon indigenous communities. This also encourage equitable sharing of benefits, recognising indigenous people knowledge. The article 8j lays emphasis on in situ conservation of knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities tangible or visible lifestyle relevant for sustainable use of resources and promote wider application of such knowledge.

Traditional knowledge is relevant for indigenous and local communities, users and competent national authorities. In case user want to use TK in their research and product development, they have to seek approval of the relevant ILCs and negotiate to agree on terms of equitable sharing of any benefit conferred upon the user by the use of their knowledge.

Indian System Of Medicine

  • 2000B.C. – “Here, eat this root.
  • 1000B.C. – That root is heathen, say this prayer.
  • 1850A.D. -That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.
  • 1940A.D. – That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.
  • 1985A.D. – That pill is futile, take this antibiotic.
  • 2000A.D. – That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”

When a patient is treated within his/her cutural, social, spiritual environment then this approach is known as holistic. It is the basis of ancient Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda). Modern medicine is allopathy as it fights disease by treatment that produces opposite effects from those formed by the disease. Although modern medicine is prevalent is India and a large part of healthcare budgets is allocated to it, the holistic approach to medicine is an integral part of the Indian Psyche. Traditional Knowledge Digital Library(TKDL) acts as a link between modern and traditional knowledge system, a link that contains the knowledge of old Sanskrit Sloka and the computer screen of a patent examiner. There is changed interest in holistic healthcare. The effect of herbs, pulse diagnosis, magic of sunlight, fullness of breath all these methods are coming back to the healthcare methods.


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