Traditional Medicinal (TM) knowledge is indigenous to different cultures. It is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences across the globe, used in the maintenance of health, and improvement of treatment of physical and mental illness. Therefore, TM has either been the centerpiece of health care delivery or has accompanied it.1 Complementary Medicines (CM) on the other hand refer to healing practices and products that work in conjunction with traditional medicines. Within the United Nations (UN) framework, World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for international public health. WHO provides leadership on global health matters; enables shaping of the health research agenda; setting up of norms and standards; articulating evidence-based policy options; providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health situation and trends.2
WHO intends to boost the TM and CM methods into health care systems across the globe by achieving the following key goals:3
- Supporting the member states in harnessing the potential contribution of TM and CM to health, wellness and people eccentric healthcare;
- Effective use of TM and CM through the regulation of products, practices and practitioners.
These goals are achieved by implementing three strategic objectives:4
- Building the knowledge base and formulating national policies;
- Strengthening safety, quality and effectiveness through regulation; and
- Promoting universal health coverage by integrating TM and CM services, and self-health care into national health systems.
India has always been known for its TM systems, which are well documented in the ancient Vedas and other scriptures as well.5 The concept of Ayurveda developed between 2500 B.C. - 500 B.C.6 Presently, India is the largest producer of medicinal plants with over 1.5 million practitioners using TM systems in India of which 2,50,000 are registered Ayurvedic system medical practitioners.7 However, a large number of countries still cannot afford the most basic medical procedures, drugs and vaccines.
Therefore, in order to utilize this opportunity to not only promote TM therapy across the globe at rational rates by offering holistic and comprehensive health care, but also to take advantage of the trending popularity of India’s TM in the global market, the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, (AYUSH)8 signed a Project Collaboration Agreement (PCA) on May 13, 2016 with the WHO.9
PCA aims towards, “Co-operation on promoting the quality, safety and effectiveness of service provision in traditional and complementary medicine between WHO and AYUSH, India, 2016-2020.”10 The move, marks as one of the most significant agreements that the Ministry of AYUSH has entered into, which has been established with the mandate to promote, propagate and globalize the recognized TM and CM systems including Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homeopathy.11 The collaboration is expected to lead to mutually agreeable pacts that could enable further facilitation of TM and CM systems.12
- To support WHO in the development and implementation of the WHO Traditional and Complementary Medicine Strategy: 2014-2023;
- To globally promote traditional Indian systems of medicine;
- To deliver the WHO benchmark for training in Yoga, practice in Ayurveda, Unani Medicine and Panchakarma;
- To establish a regulatory framework for TM and further take appropriate steps to strengthen the national capacities ensuring the quality, safety and effectiveness of TM.
In addition to above mentioned key objectives, this landmark collaboration seeks to further strengthen India’s position in becoming a leader in the global health. It is further expected that this collaboration shall enable:14
- Development of the WHO publication on the basic terminologies for TM & CM;
- Establishment of a database for global TM & CM practitioners;
- Establishing a network of international regulatory cooperation for TM & CM practices, “for preserving, protecting and promoting the bio-resources, traditional medicine and folklore knowledge related with these systems.”15; and
- The inclusion of Ayurveda and Unani in the International Classification of Diseases and International Classification of Health interventions.16
ANALYZING THE TM GROWTH PROSPECT
Signing of the PCA with WHO, has lead to recognition of India’s rich conventional experience in the expansion and governance of TM. It is expected to pave the way for India’s long-term collaboration with the WHO in fostering the global promotion and integration of AYUSH systems of medicine, through the inclusion of Ayurveda and Unani in the International Classification of Diseases and the International Classification of Health Interventions.17 The initiative has been taken in alignment with the WHO TM strategy 2014-2023.18
Further, India has already begun taking preliminary steps reflecting its commitment towards the PCA. These steps include:
- Dedicating itself to the technical and financial support of WHO; and
- Proposing to provide $0.97 million (Rs.6.45 crores) against staggered outcomes to the United Nations’ Health Agency for the duration of the agreement i.e. till December 2020.19
The AYUSH Ministry is already in the process of streamlining quality in alternative systems of medicine. To further safeguard the credibility of knowledge and skills of yoga experts and professionals, a scheme for voluntary certification was launched in collaboration with the Quality Council of India.20 The scheme aims towards promotion of authentic yoga as a preventive, rehabilitative and health-promoting drugless therapy and certifying the competence level of yoga professionals, which would further facilitate their deployment within and outside the country.21
There is an augmented desire among countries around the world to bolster their medicinal systems22, which is evident from the fact that the number of WHO member states has exponentially increased from 25 to 194 from 1999 to 2015.23 Such collaborations have further allowed different countries to understand and assess TM systems in other countries and further enhance them by incorporating more scientific inputs from both sides. India has already commenced its dialogues with US on collaboration in TM.24
Having said that, the PCA agreement is a striking achievement, as it allows the world to embrace AYUSH systems. The step enables mainstreaming AYUSH systems in patient health care across the globe. It certainly marks the underpinning progression towards many more such long-term collaborations with the WHO and a move that shall facilitate international acceptability and branding of AYUSH systems and increase awareness regarding its medicine, skill development, workshops, publications advocacy and dissemination of information amongst the Member States.