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What do you do when your tummy’s upset, or fever looks imminent, or cough and cold have just started? I know you are a doctor. Who isn’t nowadays! Have you not been assaulted with the 60 page printout your patient has agonized over before coming to you? OK, back to the point – what do you do…

  1. Ignore it and hope things will change
  2. No feasting – only fasting till….
  3. Try Granny’s remedy – soft foods, no spices, plenty of water, rest….
  4. Pop whatever pill is on hand – like one of those ‘cins’ for fever …
  5. Blame it on the fruit salad you had last night and consult the others who indulged in it ….for vicarious pleasure and remedies of course
  6. Consume Aunty’s  Kashayam (decoction)/ORS, since you hate/love the taste…
  7. Experiment with the complementary digestive enzyme sampled with the weekly magazine
  8. Go on a google search and take it to be gospel truth…

So on and so forth.

It is known that professional help is sought only after four or more such options are exhausted. Professional help includes all systems of Medicine in practice, including what is also referred to as ‘English medicine’ (by the common man or “aam aadmi”) and depends on availability, accessibility, affordability, acceptance and appropriateness. That’s a breathless list of A’s, with the Modern system scoring lower on some counts compared to ‘alternatives’.

The earlier incomplete list before getting professional help is a pointer to the peripheral nature of matters relating to Health/Disease/Medicine in normal human life. As the Buddha exhorted, all human suffering is the result of ignorance. No cause for worry, considering the rush to rectify this ignorance by countless kind souls advertizing and peddling remedies for ailments created for that purpose – a virtual haven for hypochondriacs (see cartoon). This vast desert of ignorance is further expanded with a lot of mud-slinging that goes on by ‘authentic’ sharing of  suffering from articulate users in cyber space. The internet is a boon for those who log on in pursuit of self/wrongly diagnosed ailments and suffer their virtual unreality. Come back Buddha – ignorance is really expanding at a galloping pace!

So, that’s the scenario in which medicine operates. Getting back to alternatives, the Government of India “officially” recognizes five of the several hundred under the acronym AYUSH. It stands for Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. AYUSH also means ‘longevity’ – an apt acronym. Except for Homoeopathy whose origins are German, and Unani from Greece (Yunan – reaching here via the Middle-east) the rest are indigenous to our country. These two have the largest number of practitioners in our country compared to anywhere else in the world. We also have practitioners of the Amchi (Tibetan) system, Acupuncture & Acupressure, Pranic Healing and Reiki, and so on and so forth – only, they do not have an ‘official’ status. People patronize all these systems and more to meet their needs.

shirdi prasad cartoonThe official status means that they receive government funds (hardly five percent of the Health budget which they share), have their own medical colleges (clubbed together, more than the modern medicine ones), register their qualified practitioners (five times that of Modern medicine), run their own dispensaries and pharmacies (lesser in comparison) and woefully inadequate in numbers of hospitals. Each of these five systems have their own Central Council, and in the past decade, advanced Research centers, being egged into the mainstream of public health to address National Health priorities with specific focus areas like Mother & Child Health (Homoeopathy), Skin (Unani), …..and, so on. Their focus now seems to be to build the needed infrastructure and coming to grips with what is unfamiliar to them.

Buddha in his travels to enlighten people had deployed his personal physician Jeevaka and team to take care of animal and human health concerns. Bringing the suffering lot to one location evolved as an effective option. Prescribed therapies were then followed up by local practitioners at the same location- forerunners of modern hospitals! These were “Dharmasalas” – centers for charitable work, where other socially disabled, like destitute, aged and so on were also taken care of by society. Family members and other concerned citizens took care of the needs of the inmates. The profession of “nursing” was a social function, enabling transfer of basic knowledge into the social system. This was at a time when Europe was ostracizing persons with leprosy and such diseases and isolating them from social life in colonies that received no help!

A valuable digression on Jeevaka. He graduated from both Takshashila  and Nalanda – the premier institutes of the time- with flying colors, before becoming part of Buddha’s entourage. The system of examination and certification involved sending students off to gather herbs and other material whose medicinal values they were ignorant of. They were “certified” to go home and practice, depending on adequacy of knowledge, with corrections and pointers for future learning. Dishonesty was yet to be discovered. Jeevaka returned empty handed since he could find some medicinal value in all that he came across. Details of the subsequent viva voce are missing. This underscores the point that all poisons could be used as medicine, and of course, all medicines are poisons.

As “Therapies” evolved of, for and by the people, the intelligentsia chipped in and explained their workings on the basis of philosophies of the day. As they co-evolved, this knowledge was subjected to classification, organization, experimental verification, standardization and such intellectual things. Then, methods of oral and written transmission were recruited to maintain their “purity”, thus completing the hegemony of the intellectual and the alienation of the hoi polloi from knowing themselves. With expansion, each of these systems needed institutions and patronage. State patronage being the most important, various systems flourished or famished due to this. The common man (aam admi) still contributes his mite and so, most systems just manage to survive even today.

Modern medicine, the newest kid on the block has excelled in such matters and thus dominates matters of health, disease and anything remotely concerning them. Think over – is this dominance answering all human needs, or, is it?