Traditional Medicine versus Modern Medicine

“Traditional Medicine (TM) looks at results, not how the treatment works while Modern Medicine (MM) advances by understanding the mechanism of action, and cause and effect.” writes D Balasubramnian in his article on popular science in Hindu this week.  Dr Balsubramanian,  a recipient of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science, writes delightfully simple  articles on contemporary issues in science for lay audiences. I found this article of particular interest, because it tried to highlight an effort to bridge the chasm of mistrust that exists between the two system.This is a conflict that I have been observing form the sidelines for long.

In the argument of ‘there must be some rationale if therapies have been around for thousands of years (TM)” versus “unless specific benefit is demonstrable for specific indications (MM)”, the former has lost out to the latter – mostly without a fight. Although the history of this stand off would be interesting, I am not familiar enough with it to comment on it. However, neither side has been generous in their dialogue and appear to have some sense of insecurity. My own exposure to the dialogue, were the efforts made to introduce Phyllanthus into the treatment protocol for hepatitis B in the 90s.

An old adage “A generalist knows less and less about more and more while a specialist knows more and more about less and less” was often quoted in jest in days of yore, when medical specialization meant a physician versus a surgeon or pediatrician or gynaecologist. Now we have gone so far down the road of specialization, that a generalist is considered to know nothing about anything while the specialist knows everything about the left lobe of the liver, but maybe not the name of the patient!!

Across the world the ‘generalist versus specialist’, ‘patient versus disease’ dialogue is gaining momentum, whether it be in context of the increasing cost of health care or the total lack of access to any form of healthcare for so many. In India, I am not hearing this dialogue from within the profession. Whereas, we should be the leaders and  usher in  innovations that would change the current course. And if we accept the moral  premise that it is the patient who needs our attention, and not just the disease, we would also accept that TM has much to offer. Then we could embrace it, with all the ryders and provisos and use its strengths to enhance what we can offer to heal the sick and not cure just the disease.


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