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Ayurveda in modern times: Back with a bang?

• Ancient India is known to have given many jewels to the world such as Ayurveda, the science of life. However, during the medieval era, patronage for this school of medicine considerably decreased.
• This, however, does not hold true of contemporary India. As a recent survey by CII & PwC reveals, as many as 77% of Indian households use Ayurvedic products owing to the increased emphasis on lifestyle and wellness.
• However, the sector needs to cope with a shortage of skilled practitioners, dearth of quality raw materials, disparity in quality standards, and lack of product patenting.
• To promote this sector, medicines need to be standardised, cultivation of medicinal plants should be encouraged and key industry players must work hand in hand to impart knowledge to the international community about Ayurveda as a healthcare system.

Ancient India is known to have given many jewels to the world such as one of the world’s earliest civilizations, planned cities and an enviable drainage system. Over time, the nation’s cultural treasures continued to shine like bright jewels in the crown of the world. One such gem that our country is known for is Ayurveda, the science of life. It is believed that till the medieval period, it was perhaps the only system available in the Indian sub-continent to cater to the healthcare requirements of the people.

However, with the advent of foreigners into the country during the medieval era & the consequent politically unsettling conditions, the patronage for this school of medicine considerably decreased. However, this does not hold true of contemporary India. As a recent survey by CII & PwC reveals, as many as 77% of Indian households use Ayurvedic  products. Further, the magic of Ayurveda has spread beyond the Indian subcontinent. The report estimates the size of the global Ayurvedic market to almost treble from US$ 3.4 billion in 2015 to US$ 9.7 billion by 2022. According to ITC Trade Map, USA, UK, South Africa, Russia, Nigeria, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Kenya & Germany are the major nations to which India exported Ayurvedic products in 2018.

This surge in the use of ayurvedic medicines is quite impressive given the advancement in science and technology and the availability of medicines. Increased emphasis on lifestyle and wellness, accompanied by a rise in non-communicable and chronic diseases, is driving the demand for Ayurveda. As Rasmika Bhatia, Director, Preserva Wellness, explicates:

“People want to reduce the amount of chemicals they are consuming and want to move towards a natural or plant-based lifestyle and being in a country like India, it is quite easy to do so … Most people facing chronic disorders have realised that allopathy and modern medicine only suppress or treat the symptoms of a problem and not the actual problem”.

However, if the sector wants to perform better and enhance its presence in the global medicine market, there are some challenges that need to be resolved. “On the export front, many trade barriers are faced: Lack of credible documentation of therapeutic & medicinal values; lack of knowledge on international and specific regulations of importing countries; lack of standardization and optimization in services, products, and processes; and lack of information about world trade, overseas market, and marketing techniques,” according to Rishabh Gupta, Sr. Manager – Marketing, Kairali Ayurvedic Products. A recent CII report titled Ayurveda Industry Market Size, Strength and Way Forward:, has also highlighted some of these issues:

a. Lack of Data: As of now, there is no official source of data on manufacturing of Ayurvedic products; private hospitals, clinics, wellness centres and spas which dabble in Ayurveda; employment generated by this sector and its manpower requirements; raw material availability and requirements; trade in Ayurvedic services; and consumer composition of Ayurveda. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis of the size of the sector becomes a challenging task.

b. Shortage of Manpower: The survey found that there seems to be a lack of Government approved and/or recognized paramedical training courses and there is no uniformity in the skill and knowledge. There’s also a consequent dearth of skilled manpower.

c. Dearth of quality raw materials: It points out that there is a severe shortage of certain kinds of medicinal plants/herbs, because they are either becoming endangered or there can be lower production due to factors such as hostile weather conditions.

d. Disparity in Quality Standards: It has been noted that there are wide variations in quality standards of hospitals, manufacturing units and wellness centres. Discrepancies also arise in terms of the policies that different states have towards these products.

e. Lack of product patenting: This creates difficulties in terms of having proprietary rights on the drugs and also presents hurdles in exporting these products as in some countries, Ayurveda products, especially single herb preparations, can be sold as food supplements or dietary supplements but not be sold as medicines, since Ayurveda is not recognized under the healthcare system.

Dr. Sachith Shetty, CMO, Ayush – South Delhi Municipal Corporation, suggests a few measures to give a fillip to this sector in the country:

“To promote a career in this discipline, a person who is pursuing a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery degree has to pursue his further studies in Ayurveda. Such a bill (that allows him/her to go for other medicinal systems like Allopathy) should be introduced in the parliament in a regular way. Secondly, the medicines should be standardised so that their result-oriented application can be highlighted.”

Further, an awareness needs to be generated in the domestic market about critical issues such as standardization of Ayurvedic medication and getting these products patented. Once this is accomplished, the government and the key industry players must work hand in hand to impart knowledge to the international community about Ayurveda as a healthcare system. For promoting “brand Ayurveda” in domestic market and global platform the Ministry of AYUSH needs to step up its efforts.

A robust database should also be created so that a holistic assessment of the sector can be undertaken and knowledge pertaining to it be imparted. To mitigate shortages of raw materials, the government must encourage the industry to cultivate of medicinal plants. Last but not the least, focus also needs to be given on making the system of R&D in this sector robust so that it can be primed to play a role in the fight against health crises like the present Covid-19 pandemic.

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