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April 17, 2000


The Rediff Business Special/Neena Haridas

Wealth from health: Indian medicinal systems could be big biz

IHerbal health: Ayurveda, Unani new growth-driversf the Indian prime minister had his way, Coldarin and Crocin would have been out of the window by now. Instead, there would be a bottle of Chyawanprash or Briania30 to treat that irritating cough and cold.

Even as India embraces globalisation, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has hit upon a fresh swadeshi plan, this time for the Indian system of medicine. In other words, Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani, which are being seen as the growth-drivers in the era of the knowledge economy.

send this business special feature to a friend L Prasad, joint secretary, Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy, Ministry of Health, said, "The new economy is all about infotech and biotech. One hears of the role that India will play in the new global economy. I think medicine is one area where India has a lot of scope."

Alternative medicine: Ready for export"The world over people are disillusioned with the English system of medicine -- Allopathy -- because of medicinal side-effects. They are now taking to Ayurveda in a big way. There is general assent that herbs and medicinal plants do not harm the human immune system. It is here that India should take advantage of its strength and generate revenue from it," he says.

Kailash Joshi, a non-resident Indian businessman, and founder of The IndUS Entrepreneurs, echoed Prasad's sentiments, "It is not just infotech that can bring India fame and fortune. Our ancient systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, I believe, are exportable concepts, too."

"The Indian government has not paid enough attention to this. It should allow Indians to take this system to the markets in the US and Europe. There are very talented entrepreneurs in the US who have acquainted the Americans with Ayurveda. But a lot more needs to be done on this."

"The Indian system needs standardisation and research. If the country could spend a fraction of the money, spent on modern health facilities, on Indian medicine, India can meet the challenge of health for all," Vajpayee said at a recent seminar on the Indian System of Medicine in New Delhi.

In tune with the government's plans to standardise Indian medicine, Vajpayee suggested that the system of Indian medicine should be included in the curriculum for the degree of bachelor of medicine and bachelor of science, or MBBS.

This would help bring about awareness and wider acceptance for the Indian systems of medicine, he said.

Harmless cure: 'Traditional medicament does not harm immune system'"The problem is that the Indian system of medicine has never been accepted as a business proposition. However, now it is time to create wealth from this knowledge. After all, we hear about the value of knowledge-based industry every day," said Rahul Bajaj, president, Confederation of Indian Industry, or CII.

The CII has set up a task force to examine the export of plant-based products. Asked if patents would not be a problem, Bajaj said, "Patents are the biggest problem. We have been slow on this front. We have had to fight for the patent of basmati against Texmati! And for that of turmeric! The industry itself should take a lead in this and get the patents in place."

"We have sought the government's help to encourage our member companies to grow medicinal plants. I think this will help increase the acreage of medicinal plants in the country," he said.

"In order to formulate standards for drugs, pharmacopoeia committees have been set up for each system of medicine. These committees are functioning in tandem with the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy, or DISMH," he said.

"The Pharmacopoeial Laboratory for Indian Medicine, or PLIM, and the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Laboratory, or HPL, support the pharmacopoeia committees in their work. Both are in Ghaziabad," he said.

"In order to make available quality Ayurvedic and Unani drugs at government dispensaries, a manufacturing unit has been established at Mohan in Uttar Pradesh. A drug control cell has also been set up to assist the Drug Controller of India in matters pertaining to licensing and control of misbranded, adulterated and spurious manufacturing of Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha drugs," he said.

However, according to Prasad, an area of concern is the medicinal plant sector. "There are very few horticulturists who grow medicinal plants. But for Kottakal in Kerala there are no major Ayurveda centres that grow medicinal plants in a big way. Hence, we have set up a medicinal plant cell for implementing the Central Scheme for Development and Cultivation of Medicinal Plants.

"Under this scheme, the department will provide assistance and grants for improving and strengthening of the existing under-graduate colleges of the DISMH," he said.

"It will also provide a scheme for re-orientation and training programmes for teachers, physicians, research workers and drug inspectors of the department, apart from upgradation of courses for post-graduate training and research," he said.

"The idea is to make this industry globally competitive. Since the government wants to earn foreign exchange from this industry, our endeavour is to make the exportable products. Besides, the system gains credibility only if there is standardisation," he said.

The DISMH has restructured its policy statements ever since the government stressed on globalising the Indian system of medicine.

S K Sharma, advisor, Ayurveda, DISMH, said, "As a result of a lot globalisation talk, progress has been made in important traditional systems of medicine. A policy directing this growth and development is gradually unfolding."

"For instance, our objective now is to develop, systematise and raise the level of traditional Indian systems of medicine by providing a sound scientific base for its various aspects," he said.

The seminar on Indian system of medicine held in New Delhi recently stressed that the government now aims at:

  • Promoting maximum utilisation of the practitioners of these systems with a view to increasing the coverage of health services, particularly for weaker sections and people living in inaccessible, extremely remote areas;
  • Encouraging and training practitioners of modern and indigenous systems of medicine to learn, practice and know each other's systems better;
  • Scientifically modernising traditional medicines in all their aspects and updating their pharmacology;
  • Undertaking studies to develop sound bases for integration of indigenous systems of medicine and modern systems of medicine for delivery of health-care services to the people;
  • Making surveys of natural medicinal plants, minerals and other resources to promote their availability with a view to increasing utilisation; and
  • Equalising the status of practice and practitioners of all the systems of medicine in the official sector.

In other words, Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani have been earmarked as the growth drivers of the new economy. Of the three systems of medicine, Ayurveda has been identified as the fastest growing with the organised market for herbal medicine pegged at Rs 10 billion.

Abhinav Rahul, director, corporate affairs, Dabur, a leading Ayurveda pharma company in India, said: "If we add the health supplements such as Chyawanprash, Pudin Hara, etc, which are over the counter drugs, the total organised market amounts to about Rs 15 billion. But there is also a huge unorganised market. Although there is no standardisation in this sector, it is still a force to reckon with and is estimated to be around Rs 20 billion. Of course, these market figures also include the Unani system because Unani in itself is very small with just Hamdard manufacturing drugs under this science."

In fact, the global export market for herbal medicine is currently pegged at $5 billion, but is projected to cross $16 billion in the next three years. Rahul said: "That is more than triple the growth. In fact, the total market for herbal medicine including health supplements, herbal beauty products, etc, is estimated at $62 billion. Of which the aforesaid $16 billion is just for herbal medicines. Hence, there is a huge potential here, and the government has realised this potential. However, the problem that the industry faces in the current market situation is lack of standardisation."

In the Ayurveda sector, the main players include Dabur, Himalayas, Zandu, Baidyanath. Hamdard and Charak follow the Unani system and are the only two organised players in that segment.

On the Homeopathy front, the water is murkier. The total market for homeopathy is much smaller than Ayurveda and the Indian Homeo pharma companies face stiff competition from their German counterparts. Prasad said: "German homeo companies have better credibility in the market -- even in India. The problem in India is that there has been no standardiation of Homeo medicine -- the players are mostly family business houses and the doctors too have not done much to popularise any brand, unlike in Ayurvdea where branded pharma companies are working towards merging into the mainstream."

However, the government seems to have finally understood the need for standardisation and efforts to link upto the global medicine systems. The prime minister, in a recent seminar on Indian Systems of Medicine, said, "The Indian system of medicine needs standardisation and research. If the country could spend a fraction of the money on modern health facilities for Indian medicine, the country could easily meet the challenge of health for all."

The pharma companies such as Dabur and Himalayas claim that they have taken the lead in standardisation. An official of Himalayas said: "We have a huge research and development centre where our focus is to make the world accept Ayurveda as part of modern science itself. I don't think selling Ayurvdea as a 5000-year-old tradition alone will help us make a mark in the export market. Hence, it is important to merge this system with the mainstream thorough R&D."

Another problem facing the Indian system of medicine is the tough competition that it faces from the Chinese system of medicine. Dabur's Rahul said: "The west is well acquainted with the Chinese system of herbal medicine. A whole of Chinese companies such as Sunrider International (which is trying to get government clearance to set up shop in India) have set up big offices in the US. They have their R&D in the US, and are very vociferous on hte advertising front as well. The Indian medicine loses out to them often because our companies do not have a global image or presence."

While the government is doing its bit, the corporate sector seems gung-ho on tapping the export potential. The organised sector has reportedly earmarked close to Rs 400 million on advertising blitz alone. Rahul said: "The idea is to build brands. Our over-the-counter health supplements any way have over 65 per cent of the market-share. However, since the government has identified this as a growth driver and export potential, our machinery is working overtime to get our brand on the global map."

Himalayas too have gone in for a modern look with its newly-launched brand Ayurvedic Concepts. An official said: "The brand name itself is very global. There is no need to explain what the product is all about. We have had great success in the Indian market with this brand of herbal beauty products and health supplements. But we intend to build this into a global brand. We have spent a huge amount on TV commercials and point-of-purchase promos, which has helped us establish the brand in the market and has given a mindshare fo the consumer."


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