Researchers fume at AYUSH ban

ayush and non ayush ministry symbol

Even traditional medicine experts feel independent researchers should be part of any study on the efficacy of herbal drugs. That will enhance rather than demonise AYUSH, they feel.

Researchers in India have expressed dismay over the recent advisory by the Ministry of AYUSH barring non AYUSH scientists from undertaking any independent research work on AYUSH drugs and treatments.

The Advisory

The Ministry’s statement issued on April 2 says that non-AYUSH scientists shouldn’t undertake any research work on AYUSH drugs and treatments without the involvement of an AYUSH expert. It also asks editors of various scientific and medical journals to desist from publishing work of non-AYUSH authors and researchers as it may be “damaging to the image of traditional healthcare systems.”

The advisory states that all non-AYUSH researchers should include a domain expert in any scientific study on alternative drug or treatment so as not to demonise AYUSH ban.

“Principles, concepts and approaches of AYUSH systems and their drug-based interventions are not at all comparable to the prevalent modern medical system,” the Ministry says after issuing the advisory. 

“The potential and scope of AYUSH in public healthcare cannot be jeopardized and the people may not be dissuaded from AYUSH from arbitrary statements and unfounded conclusions in scientific studies and research publications related to AYUSH.”

The advisory also suggests that AYUSH products or clinical trials be validated only by the councils formulated by the ministry.

Non-AYUSH scientists react sharply 

The widely debated advisory has offended many in India’s research community, including those associated with traditional systems of medicine. Subhash Lakhotia, Professor at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU),  says they share the concerns of the AYUSH Ministry but every research must be supported by evidence-based testimonials.

“The AYUSH practices and formulations need to be substantiated by evidence-based understanding,” IANS quoted him as saying.

“There is a great need for true inter-disciplinary studies, with free and unbiased participation of researchers in different domains, to achieve the much-needed integration of traditional and modern medical systems,” he writes in an opinion piece for the journal ‘Current Science’. The article has been co-authored by two other scientists—Kishor Patwardhan from BHU and Sanjeev Rastogi from Lucknow Ayurvedic college.

The authors warn the advisory by AYUSH will bring disaster for the AYUSH systems if taken seriously.

“It would make only one opinion flourish and may throttle all others who dare to differ,” they say.

“The actual disrepute to the traditional Indian healthcare systems, including Ayurveda, is caused by the mushrooming of low-quality journals which publish poor-quality pseudo-research, conducted often by AYUSH ‘experts’ themselves,” authors say. 

According to Lakhotia and colleagues, the low-quality medicines being marketed by spurious pharmacies also bring disrepute to AYUSH.

“The Ministry should be more concerned with these rather than placing a gag on studies and voices that may not fully agree with the traditionally held views,” they say adding that the ministry should not forget the remarkable contributions of non-AYUSH researchers who have contributed and continue to do so to the understanding of the principles and mechanisms of actions of a large variety of herbal and Ayurvedic preparations.  

“We believe that a better and rational approach for the AYUSH Ministry would be to curb poor-quality research journals in the field of traditional healthcare systems, rather than curbing involvement of researchers from diverse disciplines,” says Lakhotia. 

“The AYUSH Ministry could promote this by ensuring that the various AYUSH colleges and their educational programmes maintain high standards of teaching and research.” 

‘Advisory will have disastrous consequences’

A renowned cardiac surgeon Sankaran Valiathan told IANS that he was disturbed by the implications of such an advisory.

“It will hurt the meagre effort being made in India to promote scientific research in Ayurveda,” he says

The surgeon, who was behind the government’s ‘Ayurvedic Biology’ mission that was started a decade ago, says that he fully endorses the views of Professor Lakhotia and colleagues and urges the Ministry to take a second look at the Advisory. 

Similar concerns have been expressed by those associated with the manufacturing of AYUSH drugs.

They say any attempt to discourage research in AYUSH by non-AYUSH streams would have disastrous consequences to the already struggling system facing allegations of lack of scientific evidence.

“In my opinion, the advisory is hyper-protective knee jerk reaction by the Ministry,” Chandra Kant Katiyar, CEO of Technical Healthcare Division at Emami Ltd, a leading manufacturer of Ayurvedic medicines told IANS.

“AYUSH had earlier signed agreements with scientific organizations like the Department of Biotechnology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to promote and conduct research. The same AYUSH issuing such advisories displays lack of vision and direction,” Katiyar points out in the report. 

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