Kerala minister KK Shailaja’s support for Ayurveda surgery invites criticism from IMA

The globally acclaimed ‘rockstar’ minister’s claims seems political at a time when it is a question of skills, practice, and knowledge
Kerala minister KK Shailaja’s support for Ayurveda surgery invites criticism from IMA

Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja, during a press meet following the nationwide IMA strike, said that Ayurvedic doctors could be allowed to perform surgeries if they have been trained well. The minister, however, opposed the Centre’s decision to conduct bridge courses for other system practitioners to practice modern medicine because one can do so only if the courses are similar.

Health services across the country were affected on December 11, as the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the apex body of Indian doctors, called for a nationwide strike against the Centre’s decision to allow postgraduate Ayurvedic doctors to perform general surgeries, including ortho and dentistry.

According to IMA Thiruvananthapuram unit president Dr Prashanth CV, the minister’s statement was “a political press statement”.

“You can make Ayurveda stronger, but not by impregnating it with modern medicine. Let Ayurveda continue with its sanctity. The government should ideally delink Ayurveda from the Ayush and empower Ayurveda as the Indian system of medicine. All we demand is to not mix disciplines,” he asserts.

The Centre, however, claims to have made the recommendation based on their “observation” that the number of doctors is “dwindling”. Addressing this concern, Prashanth said, “The Centre, who is complaining about the dwindling number of surgeons, should instead open more MBBS courses and medical colleges.”

According to Dr Prashanth, Shailaja, who achieved global acclaim for her efforts in dealing with the Nipah virus and the Covid-19, did not achieve these accolades through Ayurveda. “If her name is now global then it is thanks to the efforts of the modern medicine team under her, and not because of the other systems of medicine. Therefore, it is disheartening to hear such statements from a responsible Health Minister. We feel that she might have made such a statement due to political pressure, especially amidst the current election. However, we strongly believe that she will correct her statement,” he adds.

Others point out that Ayurveda cannot mingle with modern medicine, as the former’s foundation is different from the latter. The Central Council of Indian Medicine had listed 58 surgeries that can now be performed by Ayurveda doctors. However, Dr Gopikumar P, State Secretary of IMA, raises a query. “All 58 surgeries, mentioned in the list, have been developed by modern medicine and all of them are done by modern doctors who have required qualifications. As per the Medical Council of India, it is mandatory that a modern doctor can only train a person who is taught or is getting instructed in modern medicine. If this is the case, then, who will train these Ayurveda doctors?”

Regarding the suggestion of a bridge course, Dr Gopikumar added, “If they want to practice surgery, they can practice it in their own way as described by the Shaila Tantra.”

Ayurveda practitioners point out that students enrolling in Ayurveda courses have to pass the same NEET (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test). Their course runs for four-and-a-half years, followed by one year of internship, six months of which are spent at a civil or general hospital, or a primary health care centre.

Postgraduate courses require another three years of study. They also have to undergo clinical postings in the outpatient and in-patient departments at hospitals apart from getting hands-on training in Ayurvedic treatment procedures.

On November 19, a government notification listed out specific surgical procedures that a postgraduate medical student of Ayurveda must be “practically trained to acquaint with, as well as to independently perform”. The notification has invited sharp criticism from the IMA, which questioned the competence of Ayurveda practitioners to carry out these procedures. They called the notification an attempt at “mixopathy”. The notification mentions 58 surgical procedures that postgraduate students must train to perform independently. These include procedures in general surgery, urology, surgical gastroenterology, and ophthalmology.

Considering all things, KK Shailaja, Kerala’s beloved teacher, should have taken into consideration all things before making such a claim. When all things considered, human life on a surgeon’s table is a question for science and skills, and not of politics.

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