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Lokvani Talks To Pratibha Shah

Ranjani Saigal

Pratibha Shah holds a Masters degree in Ayurved, from National Institute of Ayurved, Jaipur, India. She moved to US in 2004, from New Delhi, India, where she was working as Chief Medical Officer, at CGHS (Central Govt. Health Scheme). During her eleven years of clinical practice, she has engaged in numerous public health activities besides regular clinical duty, including two stints with WHO. Presently she is Chairperson, International Affairs of AAPRA (American Association of Practitioners and Researchers of Ayurved); Secretary of AAPNA (Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America); member of NAMA, member of ISAH and also a Life Member of the Ayurvedic Maha Sammelan, which is a National Body of practicing Ayurvedic Physicians in India. She has a deep interest in Public Health and is currently enrolled for a Masters degree in Public Health at Boston University School of Public Health.

She talked to Lokvani about Ayurved and its potential to become more mainstream.

Why did you decide to become a Ayurvedic doctor?

A list of strange coincidences brought me to Ayurved. I was originally planning to be an Architect.  After my 12th grade a series of silly misteps caused me to reconsider my options. My father kept pushing me to become a doctor.Although my percentage in 12th was good enough to get me into Medical School, by the time I decided to try, the admissions were alrea. After a year  I had learnt by then that there was a category of diseases called iatrogenic diseases, which means diseases caused by doctors/medicines. And I did not want to be part of a medical system that was flawed in this manner. That is when I set my feet firmly onto the road of becoming an Ayurvedic doctor.    
What is the fundamental difference between Allopathy and Ayurved?

Allopathy and Ayurved are two very different streams of medicine. To mention a few important differences:

    * Allopathy addresses the symptoms whereas Ayurved addresses the individual.
    * Allopathy has one standard treatment for a disease, irrespective of the individual whereas Ayurved describes body types and all treatments are individual specific, based on body type and several other parameters. In this way, Ayurved looks at the individual more elaborately than in Allopathy
    * There is a lot of stress on lifestyle in Ayurved – hence you will find instructions on daily regimen, seasonal regimen, regimen for a pregnant woman, diet, ‘sansakaras’ in childhood and many such topics, to help lead a healthy life. Allopathy caters to disease and treatment with barely any stress on lifestyle and its contribution to disease.
    * Basic pathology and pharmacology are very different in the two systems.

What kinds of ailments would you recommend people to seek a Ayurvedic solution to a problem ?

Ayurved is a very comprehensive system of medicine. Under the guidance of an expert, it holds answer to all ailments, acute and chronic. The treatment often involves dietary restrictions and dos and donts. But the end result is a lasting relief. So one can turn to Ayurvedic system of medicine for almost any ailment.

Having said that, there are 'kasht saadhya' (difficult to cure) and  'asaadhya' (incurable) disorders too, that have been described in Aurved. Also with the advancement of medical science and modern technology, it is possible to extend life even in very critical conditions. So in life threatening, emergency or very acute conditions, it is a good idea to stabilize with Modern Medicine and then maintain and manage with Ayurvedic medicines.

You have never used Allopathy for your own family. Can you tell us examples of problems you have cured with Ayurved?

That is true. I have taken care of all common ailments like cold, cough, fever, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, middle ear infection, etc. and a little more serious issues like Blood Pressure, high levels of bad Cholesterol, flu like disease, and a host of other problems that strike a general household. The range of diseases that I treated back in India as a Chief Medical Officer with the Govt. of India, is wider and with the grace of God, I have been quite successful with my patients.

In India do Allopathic and Auyurvedic doctors work together? As an Ayurvedic doctor do you use any Allopathic knowledge in diagnosis or in any other way?

Unfortunately, although the Allopathic and Ayurvedic doctors may work together in the same building, as in Central Govt. Health Schemes, Govt. hospitals, etc., there is no significant synergy or collaboration between the practitioners of the two systems of medicine. However, awareness of Ayurved is on the increase and this has attracted research into some of the very promising herbs. This may pave ground for future collaborative work between the two systems of Medicine.

As an Ayurvedic doctor, I do use the advanced diagnostic tools that are available today, together with Ayurvedic diagnostic methods. In my opinion, the advancement in technology only helps me provide additional information about the patient and the disease and I am willing to use it for the benefit of the patient.

What role does Ayurved play in Indian Government provided health care?

The role of Ayurved in the Govt. provided health care has grown very significantly in the past few decades. For one, Ayurvedic Dispensaries have been running in all Central Govt. Health Schemes since more than past 20 years. The other units where Ayurvedic Dispensaries are running all over India are - ESI, Railways and now very soon, in the Armed Forces. Ayurvedic DIspensaries are also provided in State bodies like Municipality Corporation, etc. Health Ministry has formed a separate Ministry to represent all the major Alternate Systems of Medicine in India; it is called AYUSH (Ayurved, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy). Also elaborate research is being carried out on a number of promising herbs, in Govt. run Institutes like ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and Hospitals like AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Services) and Safdarjung. So although a lot more needs to be done, all in all it is a very encouraging and promising scenario for Ayurved in India today.
How can we take the ancient wisdom that is in Ayurved and make it more mainstream?

This will happen only when the general public will strive for it. Awareness is the key. Right now, the Healthcare Industry is being manipulated by the extremely wealthy and very powerful Pharmaceutical lobby. But with increased research backing, more and more herbs will be passed by stringent Govt. bodies and this will hopefully increase their usage by mainstream medical bodies.  
Can you tell us about AAPNA?

AAPNA stands for Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America. It is the only organization in the US with the largest number of highly qualified Ayurvedic Professionals living in North America. I am currently Secretary to the organization.

Details can be found at http://www.aapna.com/

You are now planning to pursue a degree in Public Health. What do you hope to do with that training?

I am planning to use my Masters Degree in Public Health as a platform to spread awareness about Ayurved. For a system that is in every household in India in the form of Grandma’s formulas, what can be more a component of Public Health than that? I will just tap on these resources and revive them for usage and application to real time Public Health issues. After establishing a successful model in India, I’ll then strive to replicate the success worldwide.
What do you see as the future for Ayurved?

The future for Ayurved is very bright. With modern medicine having come to their last generation of antibiotics and resistant strains of bacteria developing quickly, answers will be sought in Alternate Systems. The holistic approach is also catching on fast. People are becoming aware of the very serious side effects that are associated with the most of the Modern Medicines, and are turning to natural and herbal treatments. Ayurved is probably the most ancient system of medicine around and in my opinion, also the most comprehensive and holistic. It is certainly going to be in great demand in years to come.

“Om shree dhanvantaraye namah” 

Thank you for your time

Thank you


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