Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine & Govt. Measures to Protect it from Patenting

Updated July 22, 2022

Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine is really ancient, vast and proven. Sadly, MNCs have unlawfully, engaged into unlawful practice of patenting this knowledge database. Govt. through various measures such as TKDL, Register of Bio-Diversity and strong protest at suitable forums has sought protecting the indigenous knowledge base.

Some of these traditional medicine systems are found in the huge volumes of the literature and records of the theoretical concepts and practical skills. While others are passed down from generation to generation through verbal teaching. To date, many countries rely on their our traditional medicinal system to get the primary health care needs.

They are Ayurveda, Sidha, Unani, Yoga, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Putting besides these, there is a large number of healers in the folklore stream that has not been placed in any category. Here, we would familiarize you from the Indian traditional knowledge of medicine and mention govt measures to prevent illegitimate use

Ayurveda- The Truly Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine 

The Ayurveda has an age-old history, its concept appeared and developed between 2500 BC and 500 BC. It is a well-defined conceptual framework that is consistent throughout the ages. Ayurveda has its foundations laid by the ancient schools of Hindu Philosophical teachings named Nyaya Vaisheshika and Samkhya. The last great bodies of knowledge- Atharvaveda contains the 144 hymns related to formulations for the treatment of different diseases.

Ayurveda literally means the Science of Life. With exploring the knowledge and nurtured them over the centuries two major schools and eight specializations got evolved. One was the school of physicians called as ‘Dhanvantri Sampradaya’ (Sampradaya means tradition) and the second school of surgeons is called as ‘Atreya Sampradaya’. These schools consist (a) Charaka Samhita for the school of Medicine and (b) Sushruta Samhita for the school of Surgery. The former contains six hundred drugs of plant, animal and mineral origin.

Sushruta Samhita primarily deals with different aspects of fundamental principles and theory of surgery. More than 100 kinds of surgical instruments including scalpels, scissors, forceps, specula etc. are described along with their use in this document. It contains a description of about 650 drugs and discusses different aspects related to other surgery-related topics such as anatomy, embryology, toxicology and therapeutics.

Different Disciplines of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is known as Astanga Ayurveda- means that which is made up of eight parts. The eight major divisions of Ayurveda are as follow as:

(a) Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
(b) Kaumar Bhritya (Pediatrics)
(c) Bhootavidya (Psychiatry)
(d) Shalakya (Otorhinolaryngology and Ophthalmology)

(e) Shalya (Surgery)
(f) Agada Tantra (toxicology)
(g) Rasayana (Geriatrics)
(h) Vajikarana (Aphrodisiacs and Eugenics)

The concept of Health in Ayurveda

Ayurveda lays great importance on living in harmony with the Universe and harmony of nature and science. Hence, it emphasizes the importance of maintenance of a proper lifestyle for keeping positive health. It is a complete medical system which takes into consideration the physical, psychological, philosophical, ethical and spiritual well-being of mankind. This universal and holistic approach makes it a unique and distinct medical system.

Diagnosis in Ayurveda

The patient is diagnosed with the complete examined of his/her body. The physician takes into complete consideration of the patient’s internal physiological characteristics and mental disposition.

The physician also studies- humors, patient’s resistance and vitality, his daily routine, dietary habits, the gravity of clinical conditions, condition of digestion and details of the personal, social, economic and environmental situation of the patient. The general examination is known as ten-fold examination- through which a physician identifies the nature of an illness-

(i) Psychosomatic constitution
(ii) Disease susceptibility
(iii) Quality of tissues
(iv) Bodybuild

(v) Anthropometry
(vi) Adaptability
(vii) Mental health
(viii) Digestive power

(ix) Exercise endurance
(x) Age.
In addition to this, the examination of pulse, urine, stool, tongue, voice and speech, skin, eyes and overall appearance is also carried out

A Range of Ayurvedic Therapies

Ayurvedic techniques include:

(a) Dietary changes
(b) Herbal medicine, including combining herbs with metals, minerals or gems (known as Rasha shastra medicines) that can take the form of pellets, tablets and powders of various colours and scents)

(c) Acupuncture (practised by some practitioners)
(d) Massage
(e) Meditation
(f) Breathing exercises

(g) Panchakarma (‘five actions’) – a specialized treatment consisting of five therapies including emesis (vomiting), enemas and blood-letting, which are meant to detoxify the body and balance the doshas (in Ayurveda, the body’s three vital energies)

(h) Sound therapy, including the use of mantras
(i) Yoga.

Ayurveda claims to Treat a Range of Disorders

Ayurveda practitioners believe their approach is effective in treating a range of disorders, including:

(a) Anxiety
(b) Asthma
(c) Arthritis
(d) Digestive problems

(e) Eczema
(f) High blood pressure
(g) High cholesterol levels
(h) Rheumatoid arthritis
(i) Stress.

Siddha- Another Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine 

Siddha System of medicine is practised in some parts of South India especially in Tamil Nadu. It is known that before the advent of Aryans, a well-developed civilization in South India has already been flourished. So, it seems that the system of medicine in this civilization is to be the precursor of the present-day Siddha system of Medicine. This system of medicine interacted with the other streams of medicines and enriched them and also, in turn, getting enriched with the passage of time.

Although it maintains a distinct identity of its own, it has a close similarity to Ayurveda. Similar to Ayurveda, it concepts reveal that all objects in the universe including the human body are composed of five basic elements namely, earth, water, fire, air and sky. The food, which the human body takes and the drugs it uses are all, made of these five elements.

The materia medica of Siddha system of medicines largely extracted from drugs of metal and mineral. Whereas, in Ayurveda, it largely depends upon drugs of plant and vegetable origin. It is being said that this system has come to be closely identified with Tamil civilization. 

The term ‘Siddha’ has come from ‘Siddhi’- which means achievement. The archaeologist said that Siddhars were the men who achieved supreme knowledge in the field of medicine, yoga or tapa (meditation). Eighteenth Siddhars were supposed to have contributed to the development of Siddha medicine, yoga and philosophy.

In the Siddha Concepts, matter and energy are the dominant entities, which has great influence in shaping the Universe. Matter cannot exist without energy and vice-versa. According to the tradition, it was the Shiva who unfolded the knowledge of Siddha System of Medicine and handed it down to Siddha and Siddhars.

Diagnosis in Siddha System of Medicine

The diagnostic concepts in Siddha have great similarities with Ayurveda, differing in certain aspects only. The diagnosis of diseases in Siddha involves identifying its causes. The factors of causes are Identified through the examination of pulse, urine, eyes, the study of voice, the colour of body, tongue and the status of the digestive system.

It considers every fine detail of the patient as a complete detailed procedure of urine examination includes the study of its colour, smell, density, quantity and oil drop spreading pattern. This system takes account of the complete patient, environment, the meteorological, age, sex, race, habits mental frame etc. It means, this Siddha system takes a holistic approach for the study of diseases in a patient.

Treatment in Siddha System of Medicine

The treatment in Siddha medicine is aimed at keeping the three humors in equilibrium and maintenance of seven physical constituents (Udal Thathukkal) elements. So, medicine, proper diet and a disciplined regimen of life are advised to restore the equilibrium of humors in affected condition. In a unique way, the treatment is aimed at eliminating or rectifying the root cause than the symptoms.

The medical approach of treatment in Siddha system can be classified into categories-

(a) Deva Maruthuvam (Divine method)
(b) Manida Maruthuvam (Human or rational method)
(c) Asura Maruthuvam (Surgical method)

Here, some of the effective treatment is available in Siddha to take care-

(a) menopausal syndromes, especially problems related to the hormonal imbalance.
(b) chronic cases of liver,
(d) skin diseases especially Psoriasis, rheumatic problems,
(e) anaemia,
(f) prostate enlargement,
(g) peptic ulcer.

(i) The Siddha Medicines which contains mercury, silver, arsenic, lead and sulphur have been found to be effective in treating certain infectious diseases including venereal diseases.
(k) reducing the highly debilitating problems that manifest themselves among patients of HIV/AIDS.

But it is a matter of concern that many Indigenous herbs are being patented by the pharma companies. This growing commercial use of traditional knowledge-based resources makes them increasingly vulnerable to misuse by third parties such as pharmaceutical companies.

These companies have been increasingly seen to patent traditional medicinal herbs. Out of 5000 patents based on traditional medication system. These included patenting Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is a memory enhancer and Aloe Vera for its use as a mouth ulcer treatment.

Steps to Protect the Traditional Knowledge of Indian Medicinal system from patenting

The Indian government has set up Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) under the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to prevent bio-piracy and unethical patents. It contains 80,000 formulations in Ayurveda, 1,000,000 in Unani and 12,000 in Siddha

CSIR has shared digital data on Traditional medication in patent offices of different countries of the world to check and recheck them while granting any patents. For example, patenting of Yoga postures was challenged.

A US-based NRI, applied to get a copyright for his method of teaching yoga. India has taken a strong view against the granting of copyrights and patents to Yoga postures by the US patents Office and has got the patent revoked.

Colgate obtained a US patent for the tooth powder composition comprising a rust-like red iron oxide, clove oil, camphor, black pepper and spearmint. This claim was contested by CSIR. The European patents council was asked to revoke this patent.

Government has also planned to create people’s Register of Bio-Diversity which will contain that traditional knowledge which was passed from generations through oral tradition.

India is one of the world medical tourism hubs. It must protect its database of traditional knowledge from unlawful patenting but at the same time let the global community be benefitted from this knowledge to make disease-free world.

Traditional Medicine Knowledgebase In Conclusion

Traditional medicine is defined as “the sum of knowledge, skills, practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses”. Today, these medicines really represent an important part of healthcare in many countries.

Indian people too use traditional knowledge of medicine for the treatment of diseases. But, recently it has been observed that international pharma companies have been applying and obtaining patents for medicinal use of prevalent Indian medicinal plants.

It is well known that traditional System of medicines always played an important role in meeting the health care needs of the world. They are continuing to do so at present and will have great influence in the future too. For that, India is well known for its traditional medicinal system.

Medicinal systems are mentioned in India’s ancient scriptures and Vedas. So, the system of medicines which are considered to be Indian in origin or the systems of medicine, which have come to India from outside and assimilated into Indian culture are also known as Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine.

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