The traditional Indian drug makers are now a worried lot. An innocuous document revealed at a conference held in Singapore on June 29-30, 2012, threatens to jeopardise the export prospects of the whole Ayurveda industry.
The inclusion of neem in the 'ASEAN's list of negative ingredients for traditional medicine and health supplement (TMHS)' by the product working group (PWG), an expert committee of TMHS has the industry worried. The move is being spearheaded by Indonesia.
The PWG discussed and is said to be finalising the inclusion of Azadirachta indica or neem in the negative list. Neem is known as 'Sarvarogasamhari' (panacea) in Ayurveda. It could lead to an outright ban or severe restrictions on the sale of neem-based medicines and food supplements in the ASEAN countries.
In a letter to the ministry of health and family welfare, the Association of Manufacturers of Ayurvedic Medicines (AMAM) has expressed its fears over the snowballing of this move. It could affect exports to other parts of the world, believes AMAM.
Pradeep Multani, honorary general secretary of AMAM, told Business Standard, "The move will affect Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani (ASU) branches of traditional medicines. It could have a devastating effect on the trade in ASU herbs and drugs. With India set to sign the FTA with ASEAN, it could ultimately even affect the sales of these products in India."
Multani expressed his fears that it could be first of many more herbs that could be targeted that are used in these traditional systems of medicines.
With India in talks with the ASEAN members for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Ayurveda was expected to play a major role in healthcare exports. "The local and allopathic drug makers there are probably fearing a threat," added Multani. Not all ASEAN countries though are keen to accept Indonesia's move.
Philipe Haydon, CEO, The Himalaya Drug Company, said, "Many other countries may take a cue from this and restrict imports of these products."
According to Pharmexcil (Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council Of India), set up by Ministry of Commerce & Industry, neem is among the top 25 herbal and AYUSH product to be exported.
It generated Rs 33.98 crore (Rs 339.8 million) in 2009-10, which was double that of the previous year. Care Kerala estimates that the total market for products containing neem and neem extracts is Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion).
Dr K G Raveedran, medical director, Coimbatore Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, sees an international conspiracy behind this, saying there's an international lobby trying to check the spread of Ayurveda from India.
To prove his point, he says how the US and UK have set up their own Ayurveda universities and recognise degrees only from there for doctors wanting to practise Ayurveda there.
"This looks just like an extension of that," added Dr Raveendran.
Laments Dr Raveendran: "The Indian government does not have experts advising on the subject. We are always looking for endorsements from the West before accepting a drug. We have asked the Centre to intervene, but the response has been cold."
He asserts that neem is the most important ingredient in Ayurveda. According to Mumbai-based NGO Neem Foundation, neem is used to treat rashes, wounds, chicken pox, ulcers and jaundice.