|Medicinal Plants: Rescuing a Global Heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)|
Since independence, India has made sustained efforts, through successive "Five-Year Plans," to develop the Indian traditional medical systems (Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani) with the aim of improving the delivery of healthcare to the Indian population. The 1982 Health Policy initiated efforts to dovetail the functioning of traditional health practitioners and their health services in the total healthcare system of the country. In most States, for every two allopathic doctors, a third post of traditional medical doctor has been approved in the primary health centers.
Currently there are 460,000 traditional medicine practitioners in the country. Over 271,000 (223,000 Ayurveda, 30,456 Unani and 18,128 Siddha) practitioners are registered under the state boards. In addition to private pharmacies, almost all State Governments have their own pharmacies for production of standard medicines. There also exist separate directories for traditional systems of medicine in all states. There are, in all, 215 hospitals and 14,000 dispensaries in the country devoted to traditional medicine.
There are about 540 important medicinal plants used in different formulation in India by the Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha healthcare systems. Many plants are common to all three systems. Several plants may be used either alone or in combination in the traditional systems. Whatever the combination, the regulations state that if these medicines are prepared in exactly the same way as recommended in the ancient Indian medical books and texts, and if they are preserved in the same way as described therein, then such medicines do not require approval or registration. Whenever a different manner of preparation is proposed the medicine is considered a "new" medicine. This will be treated as any new drug before it is released in the market for use either in the traditional system of medicine or the modem system of medicine. There is nothing in the regulations to indicate that the requirements before the release of such "new" but old herbal medicines are in any way less demanding than for synthetic medicines
With the introduction of traditional medical systems for primary healthcare at the level of primary health centers, guidelines and manuals are being prepared that identify the number and type of drugs to be used for primary healthcare. Lists of such drugs for each of the Indian systems of medicine have been prepared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The delay experienced in reaching these objectives can, in part, be attributed to a lack of cooperation between botanists, chemists, agronomists, physicians, and traditional healthcare practitioners to integrate the best features of traditional and modem medicine. This both defines the problem and specifies the answer.
It is well-recognized that there is considerable valuable knowledge about the medicinal uses of plants among the many tribal societies, especially those living in remote areas where the intrusion of modem society has been minimal. The Government does not exercise any regulatory control over the use of such "home remedies," which are used by a majority of the Indian population. The reports of new successes and confirmations of old remedies has stimulated research among government and university institutions.