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      A new lease of life for the Indian system of medicine

      The Indian system of medicine is facing criticism due to lack of scientific enquiry. Indian Medicine and Homeopathy Bill – 2005 is a positive step to integrate the age old system into modern medicine, say Dr Guru Prasad Mohanta, Dr Prabal Kumar Manna and Dr R Manavalan

      From designer drugs to organ transplant, from genetic engineering to biotechnology, modern medicine has made spectacular advances. Yet, all these benefits fail to lure a large section of Indian population who rely on alternate systems of medicine like homeopathy, ayurveda and herbal therapy. The popularity of these systems of medicine can be attributed to the low finances of patients and their wide accessibility. Since traditional system is an integral part of India, there is a proposal to integrate them into the modern medical system and make it a component of national health policy.


      It is estimated that traditional medicines inclusive of homeopathy account for around 5000 crores from around 800 manufacturing units. This indicates the prevalence of these medicines in India.

      Yet, Indian medicines are hard targets to international criticism. There was a recent upheaval after the Canadian Government banned some Indian medicines based on reports of heavy metal content in the drugs. Such incidents will affect the export market of these medicines in countries like USA, UK and Canada.

      The awareness of drug manufacturers regarding the ill-effects of steroid and heavy metal contamination came under question due to the heavy metal concentration reports. While steroids may be deliberately added, heavy metal presence raises red alerts.

      Poor standards

      Chinese medicines are more popular worldwide than Indian medicines as they adopt modern manufacturing technology and scientific standardised processes. The manufacturing processes of Indian medicines lack in modern technology and standardisation of process to assure quality.

      There could be many reasons for the poor status of Indian system of medicine in global market such as lack of qualified, trained and competent workforce to take care of manufacturing and quality control. All aspects of modern medicines are handled by qualified, trained and competent pharmacy professionals. But there is no such provision for complementary systems of medicine.

      The Ayurvedic Professional

      Qualified ayurvedic professionals do a dual job of a physician and that of a pharmacist. They diagnose and prepare medicines too. In this rapidly developing scientific world, it is difficult for ayurvedic professionals to justify both the jobs. Hence, it is necessary to separate the system into medicine and pharmacy as followed in modern system of medicine.

      The Regulations

      The alternate system of medicine lacks specialised regulations. Regulatory bodies and administrative authorities like licensing authority and drug inspectors are not separated from modern medicine regulations. Professionals satisfying requirements for modern medicines’ regulations as per Drugs and Cosmetics Act with experience in these systems of medicine hold administrative posts. In the age of super speciality, it is essential to separate qualifications for manufacturing, quality control, sale and administration.

      Gujarat Ayurvedic University has made a good beginning in this front by offering Diploma and Degree programme in Ayurvedic Pharmacy. Once separate status and job responsibilities are laid down officially, there would be many more institutions coming forward to offer similar programmes.

      It is necessary to control and regulate pharmacy profession of alternate systems of medicine. Qualified Ayurvedic pharmacists are not eligible to become registered pharmacist under the present pharmacy act. A separate central and state council for each system of medicine are essential in the line of Pharmacy council of India and State Pharmacy Council established under Pharmacy Act 1948.

      Indian Medicine and Homeopathy Bill – 2005

      The Government of India has appreciated the need to regulate pharmacy practice in other system of medicine. It now proposes to establish central pharmacy council through Indian Medicine and Homeopathy Bill – 2005. The bill proposes to regulate education and practice of pharmacists in homeopathy and Indian system of medicine like ayurveda, sidha and unani. Cabinet has already given its nod and now needs to be introduced in the Parliament. The earlier bill ‘Indian Medicine Pharmacy Council Bill – 1999’ lapsed before it saw the light of the day.The practice of pharmacy in ayurvedic system of medicine is a complex subject involving selection, identification, preservation, combination, detoxification, purification and manufacturing of quality medicines. The passing of the bill by the Parliament would separate the alternate system of medicines from the existing retail medicine store. This will enable a separate retail shop for each system of medicine or existing medical store availing the service of pharmacist of each system of medicine. The amendment of Drugs and Cosmetics Act specifies separate qualifications and regulatory requirement for different systems of medicine.

      National Health Policy

      National Health Policy 2002 and National Policy on Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM &H) 2002 advocate the integration of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy into the modern health care delivery system. In the national policy on ISM&H, Government outlines the proposal for promoting and regulating pharmacy education for ISM&H independently.

      It would take sometime to have an adequate number of qualified professionals in ISM &H to take care of the requirements of manufacturing to sale and administration. Till then, pharmacists qualified in modern medicine with adequate experience may be permitted to work in these alternative systems. The existing course curriculum in pharmacy programme does not have any provision to acquire knowledge on these systems of medicine. It is necessary to restructure existing curriculum of pharmacy programme to include principles and concepts of pharmaceutical knowledge of alternate systems of medicine.

      Pharmacy practice and regulation of pharmacists on different system of medicines is the necessity of the day. Both programmes and regulatory authorities of pharmacy profession can work harmoniously in best interests of health care industries and public. Government proposal in this direction is rightly mooted and lets hope the bill will pass through at the earliest.

      September 30, 2005


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