Home > Daily-current-affairs

Daily-current-affairs / 10 Oct 2023

Traditional Medicine and Modern Science: Finding Common Ground for a Healthier World : Daily News Analysis


Date : 11/10/2023

Relevance – GS Paper 3 – Science and Technology

Keywords – Ayurveda, Unani, World War II, Ministry of AYUSH


In recent times, a legal battle between a manufacturer of indigenous drugs and a medical practitioner, centered around social media threads affecting business, has sparked widespread discussion in medical circles. While the specifics of this case remain aside, it prompts a broader exploration of traditional medicine’s role in the modern world, the essence of evidence-based medicine, and the critical evaluation of therapeutic approaches. This discussion is vital in shaping healthcare policies, ensuring the well-being of populations, and finding a harmonious coexistence between traditional healing practices and modern scientific advancements.

Traditional Medicine in the Modern Context

Traditional medicine, encompassing various systems such as Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha, has been a source of healing across the globe. While modern medicine, rooted in scientific advancements, stands as a beacon of progress, traditional healing methods have their own place in societies. It is important to note that modern medicine is not merely allopathy but includes a wide array of therapeutic practices. Traditional systems, though rooted in ancient wisdom, have faced challenges due to limited understanding of the human body based on available technology.

Unani System of Medicine

The Unani system, with its roots in ancient Greece and contributions from Arab scholars, found its way to India around the eleventh century. India boasts the highest number of Unani educational, research, and healthcare institutions.


The term 'Ayurveda' stems from the fusion of 'Áyu' (life) and 'veda' (knowledge). In essence, Ayurveda signifies the science of life. It emphasizes maintaining the balance of structural and functional elements within the body for good health. This balance is achieved through various practices, dietary plans, medications, and lifestyle adjustments.

Siddha System

The Siddha system, prevalent in parts of South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, traces its origin to the term 'Siddhi,' denoting achievement. Siddhars were individuals who attained profound knowledge in medicine, yoga, or meditation.


Also known as the Tibetan system of medicine, Sowa-Rigpa is among the world's oldest documented medical traditions. Originating in Tibet, it is widely practiced in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Russia. The core principle of Sowa-Rigpa is the balance of five elemental components (Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, and Akash) within the body. Imbalances in these elements lead to disorders.


Homoeopathy, a term derived from Greek words meaning 'similar suffering,' was introduced in India during the 18th century. It operates on the principle of "Similia Similibus Curantur" (likes are cured by likes).

Homoeopathy involves treating diseases with minuscule doses of substances that induce symptoms similar to those of the ailment in healthy individuals. It takes a comprehensive approach by promoting inner balance at mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical levels in patients.

Evolution of Modern Medicine

Modern medicine's transformation into a science-based discipline occurred primarily in the late 19th century, marked by significant technological advancements. Scientific progress led to a deeper understanding of human anatomy, disease mechanisms, and innovative medical procedures such as safe anesthesia and intricate surgeries. The 20th-century scientific thought, including concepts like falsifiability, refined the evaluation of medical therapies. This continuous process of refinement and self-correction distinguishes modern medicine, making it an ever-evolving field that transcends geographical boundaries.

Epistemic Universality of Modern Medicine

Modern medicine is not geographically confined to the West; it is a global knowledge system. Its strength lies in the rigorous testing of therapies, accepting new methods into its repertoire based on their efficacy. The flow of ideas across the world, facilitated by post-World War II developments, has contributed significantly to global scientific progress. This inclusivity emphasizes that scientific knowledge is not limited to any specific cultural or geographical domain.

Significance and Challenges in Traditional Medicine

The traditional Indian system of medicine, comprising Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH), has historically been overlooked as an alternative medicine sector. While these systems hold significant cultural and health philosophies, they face challenges in modern times, especially in the context of rising non-communicable diseases and lifestyle disorders. Despite governmental support post-independence, integration attempts have faced setbacks.


  • AYUSH systems promote healthy living with established concepts on disease prevention and health promotion.
  • Rising demand due to challenges posed by NCDs and multidrug-resistant diseases.
  • Public patronage and institutional support have been extended for curative, preventive, and promotive healthcare.


  • Historical Issues: Past efforts to uplift the sector were unsuccessful.
  • Resource Inadequacy: Lack of medicines, health centers, practitioners, and public faith in AYUSH.
  • Quantity vs Quality: Debate on widespread AYUSH availability versus enhancing existing facilities.
  • Competition with Modern Medicine: Dishonest practices and skepticism affect AYUSH's credibility.
  • Lack of Integration Efforts: Limited harmonization between modern medicine and AYUSH, resulting in a status gap.
  • Conflict of Interests: Concerns about identity loss and dilution of medical care standards after integration.
  • Isolationist Attitude: Isolating traditional medicine hampers scientific scrutiny and value addition.

Initiatives and Measures for Integration:


  • Establishment of AYUSH wings in defense and railway hospitals.
  • Providing financial support for private AYUSH hospitals and clinics.
  • Creating teaching and research institutes to enhance credibility and awareness.
  • Setting up dedicated AYUSH health and wellness centers under the Ayushman Bharat Mission.

Measures for Integration:

  • Strategizing Collaboration: Facilitate cross-learning and equal collaborations between modern and traditional systems.
  • Holistic Integration: Integrate education, research, and practice of both systems at all levels.
  • Training Exchange: Include training of AYUSH practitioners in modern medicine and vice versa through curriculum changes.
  • Groundwork Requirements: Establish a robust traditional medicine research corpus, define roles, address philosophical differences, standardize AYUSH practices, and resolve research-associated challenges.
  • Learning from China: Draw lessons from China's successful integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western medicine.

Integrating AYUSH with modern medicine requires a comprehensive approach, including collaborative strategies, educational reforms, and addressing core challenges, to leverage the potential of traditional medicine for a healthier society.

Traditional medical systems like Ayurveda face challenges in integrating with modern scientific standards. The physiological basis of Ayurveda may not align perfectly with modern scientific understanding, yet this does not inherently invalidate its therapies. Traditional medicine's holistic approach is valuable, focusing not just on symptoms but also on overall well-being. To bridge the gap, it is imperative to evaluate traditional therapies using modern scientific methods, preserving their essence while ensuring efficacy and safety.

Need for Collaborative Research and Evaluation

In the realm of modern drug development, isolating active principles and precise dosing are common practices. Ayurvedic medicines, often combinations of multiple elements, present a unique challenge in understanding their interactions. For traditional therapies to gain acceptance in the scientific community, innovative investigational methods and trial designs must be developed. These methods should assess Ayurvedic therapies without compromising their holistic nature, finding a delicate balance between tradition and modernity. Government bodies, such as the Ministry of AYUSH, have a pivotal role in facilitating this collaborative research, fostering an environment where traditional healing practices can coexist harmoniously with modern medical standards.

Government Policy: Evidence-Based Integration

The ultimate goal of government policy should be the well-being of its citizens. Health policies should be grounded in evidence-based assessments of all traditional medical systems. It is essential to identify and retain valuable aspects of traditional practices, integrating them into a comprehensive medical framework accessible to everyone. This approach requires a balanced, open-minded evaluation, free from nationalistic biases, ensuring that cultural and historical medical achievements are respected and preserved.

Scientific Open-Mindedness and Cultural Respect

Scientific progress demands open-mindedness tempered by skepticism. Dismissing traditional medical systems entirely undermines centuries of practical wisdom accumulated by generations of practitioners. Valuable medical experiences, deeply rooted in cultural heritage, should not be discarded hastily in the pursuit of scientific advancement. History stands witness to instances where ancient texts, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, have inspired breakthroughs like the Nobel-winning anti-malarial drug, artemisinin. This highlights the importance of integrating traditional knowledge into scientific exploration, respecting both cultural legacies and the scientific attitude.


The coexistence of traditional medicine and modern science is not a clash but an opportunity for a harmonious synthesis. By embracing the strengths of both approaches, society can create a healthcare system that is comprehensive, culturally respectful, and scientifically robust. Collaboration between traditional healers, scientists, and policymakers is crucial. Through rigorous research, open-mindedness, and a shared commitment to the well-being of humanity, the integration of traditional healing practices into modern medical frameworks can pave the way for a healthier world, where the best of both worlds enrich the lives of individuals and communities alike.

Probable Questions for UPSC Mains Exam

  1. Discuss the challenges in integrating traditional medical systems like Ayurveda with modern scientific standards. Explain the importance of evidence-based evaluation and collaborative research in bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. (10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Examine the role of government bodies, specifically the Ministry of AYUSH, in promoting evidence-based integration of traditional medicine and modern science. Highlight the significance of preserving cultural and historical medical achievements while embracing scientific advancements. (15 marks, 250 words)

Source – The Hindu