Backlash after India grants permission for traditional medicine practitioners to perform surgery

The Indian government has formally granted permission for practitioners of Indian traditional medicine, known as Ayurveda, to perform surgeries, in a move that has provoked a strong reaction from doctors across the country.

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Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine practised across the Indian subcontinent which uses diet, herbal treatments, yogic breathing and other techniques for healing.

The controversial move now sanctions practitioners of the traditional system to perform a variety of general surgeries including ENT (ear nose and throat procedures), ophthalmological and dental procedures after training.

As per the new rules, training modules for surgical procedures will be added to the curriculum of Ayurvedic studies for the first time, the notification from the government said.

However, the decision has antagonised India’s biggest association of doctors, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) which described the move as equivalent to “corrupting the entire health system of the country”.

“Such mixing of the systems will be resisted at all costs,” it said in a statement. “All over India students and practitioners of modern medicine are agitated over this violation of mutual identity and respect.

“The CCIM [Central Council of Indian Medicine] should develop its own surgical disciplines from its own ancient texts… it should not claim the surgical disciplines of modern medicine as its own. Such a deviant practice is unbecoming of a statutory body,” IMA’s statement said.

Following the backlash, the government ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) clarified on Sunday that “the notification is specific to 58 specified surgical procedures and doesn’t allow Shalya [general surgery] and Shalakya [Surgery for ear, nose, throat, head and eye] post-graduates to take up any other surgeries,” reported ANI.

People on social media also took a dig at the new rules and questioned the scientific rationale behind it.

One Twitter user wrote, “Make it compulsory for every central minister and BABU (government employees) to undergo surgery by Ayurveda MS people and you will see the law disappear.”

Another user said the government will next pass directive which “allows cobblers and tailors to give post-operative stitches, butchers to conduct throat surgeries and fish sellers to conduct a post-mortem.”

The strongly-worded IMA statement has itself met with resistance from the Ayurvedic practitioners’ community, however. One such practitioner served a legal notice to the association, criticising it for the “defamatory, false and misleading” suggestion that Ayurvedic drugs are no more effective than a placebo.

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