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US scholars coming to learn ayurveda's power

January 16, 2010 03:49 IST

A high-powered US delegation of top-notch American educators and researchers from six major medical schools, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, will visit India on an ayurveda study-tour that could possibly lead to the incorporation of this ancient herbal remedies in the US medical curricula.

The delegation, led by Dr Navin Shah, former president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, and comprising six directors of complementary alternative medicine and integrative medicine, will arrive in India on January 27.

During five days of meetings (from January 28 through February 3) in New Delhi, evidence-based presentations will be made by ayurveda experts on the subjects like yoga, meditation and oil massage treatments.

Shah, a practicing urologist in Maryland, told rediff.com that the meetings being organised by the Government of India's Ministry of Health, would "focus on treatment benefits of ayurveda in five major diseases and also benefits of five herbs -- either simple or in combination -- in treatment of various diseases. There will be also special lectures that will deal with the role of diet in both health and diseases."

He said, "One day is allotted for presentations of 10 proposals by ayurveda experts for joint Indo-US research and we hope that this will help the Indian ayurveda institutions and faculties to interact with their US counterparts for research collaborations."

Shah said that the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, "has shown interest in such joint projects."

He said the US delegation "will also provide details on methodology of research and publications in the US journals for ayurveda research."

Shah said the delegation would also visit the Ayurveda Medical College and Hospital in Jaipur "the get a sense of the kind of ayurveda education and patient care -- both out-patient and in-patient -- and be informed of the vast network of ayurveda institutions in India, since there are more than 150 ayurveda colleges, 50 post-graduate ayurveda institutions and 75,000 students, 10,000 faculty members and 3,000 ayurveda hospitals in India."

He said the programme for the delegation will also include a visit to an ayurveda pharma factory "to perceive the drug formulation, production, preservation, safety and research areas, and on the last day, all of the presenters and participants will interact with the US delegation and discuss the various presentations and then brain-storm on a plan for future interactions and activities."

Shah said as a follow-up, in October 2010, two ayurveda professors would visit six US institutions and provide evidence-based lectures to medical students, faculty members and practicing physicians for a period of three days each. "In addition, they will interact with the US faculty members for moving forward with possible joint Indo-US research projects."

Dr David Eisenberg, Director, Division for Research and Education in Integrative Medical Therapies, Harvard Medical School, told rediff.com that he was looking forward to the visit, as he was keenly "interested in evaluating a systematic review of Indian herbal remedies."

From 2003-2005, Eisenberg served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee responsible for the Institute of Medicine report titled, 'The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public,' which according to some estimates is a $45 billion industry.

Aviad Haramati of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University School of Medicine who is also part of the delegation told rediff.com: "My principal interest is to develop a comprehensive training program for physicians that incorporates all aspects of medicine and health, including elements that are currently considered outside the mainstream."

He said, "The purpose is to have medical students understand the philosophy and state of the evidence for various practices that their patients are currently using –especially with regard to safety and efficacy."

Haramati said "The itinerary being planned for our delegation of leaders from a number of prominent academic medical centres in the US offers the opportunity for us to become familiar with the aspects of ayurvedic medicine so that we can determine what is relevant to educate US medical students and where potential lies for meaningful research collaborations."

He pointed out, "Each member of the delegation is volunteering over a week from their busy clinical and academic work because they have a keen interest to learn more about this area of medicine and health."

Shah predicted, "The take-aways of this high-powered delegation with their impeccable credentials could lead to the turning point of ayurveda in the United States and any skepticism that exists about complementary alternative and integrative medicine."

He said more importantly, although US medical schools provide information about ayurveda and its derivatives like yoga and meditation, "there is not yet ac recognized course on ayurveda that is taught in the US medical schools."

Shah said that "if these top-notch educators and researchers are convinced by the evidence-based presentations and the credibility of ayurveda, then perhaps there is every chance that in the near future, ayurveda could become a course of study in the medical curricula."

Other members of the delegation include Anastasia Rowland-Seymour, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Integrative Medicine, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University; Benjamin Kligler, Vice-Chair, Beth Israel Department of Integrative Medicine, Co-Director of Fellowship Programs, Research Director, Continuum Centre for Health and Healing and Associate Professor, Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Victoria Maizes, Executive Director, Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine and Associate Professor, Medicine, Family Medicine and Public Health, University of Arizona College of Medicine; and Anne Nedrow, Associate Professor and Director, Oregon Health and Science University's Centre for Women's Health and Primary Care and Integrative Medicine, OSHU School of Medicine.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC