Mainstreaming Traditional Medicine: Potential role for Universal Health Coverage in the Indian Context

Ritu Priya1, Shweta A.S.2

1,2 National Health Systems Resource Centre, Technical support organization under National Rural Health Mission, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare ,Government of India ,New Delhi

Background: Importance of health services of all systems as well as people’s role in their own health care is internationally well recognized. India has a rich and mature indigenous health heritage with legal status to 7 traditional health systems other than Modern Medicine. Traditional medicine in India includes the textual forms of systematized health knowledge, Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homeopathy (officially known by the acronym AYUSH) as well as the local folk practices. Under the National Rural Health Mission launched by the Indian Government to strengthen the Public Health System of the country, “Mainstreaming AYUSH & revitalizing Local Health Traditions” was one of the strategies adopted.

Objective: A study was undertaken to assess the Status and Role of these systems and to delineate implications of this strategy in terms of coverage and quality of services as assessed by public health management criteria, by traditional medicine criteria, and by the demand for services.

Methodology: The study included 18 states of India and covered the AYUSH services in the public system (260 institutions)* where both stand-alone services and those co-located with Modern Medicine were studied. Exit interviews with patients (1291)* and household interviews (1375)*were also conducted in villages of the selected blocks to capture the community’s perspective.

Results: Major finding of the study is high utilization of AYUSH services as well as of the local health traditions that are an integral part of the large sections of the population across the States even in the present time. Inter-state analysis showed that quality of the AYUSH services was the prime determinant of utilisation, irrespective of the access to services of modern medicine. Utilisation was a matter of choice. A validation exercise using the principles and texts of AYUSH systems verified the scientificity of community knowledge and AYUSH providers’ prescriptions.

Conclusion: The study throws light on the importance of the role of systems other than modern medicine in ensuring Universal Health coverage whereby “health coverage” must include the entire continuum from valid self care practices at home to the service institutions at primary, secondary tertiary levels of care of all available systems of health knowledge.

Acknowledgements: The authors thank the National Health Systems Resource Centre where this study was conceptualized, funded and conducted.

Detail pdf report is available at the NHSRC website at the following link: