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Right to Science Exemplars: Conservation

The following exemplar demonstrates the steps that governments can take to ensure the "conservation" of science as required by Article 15.


Preserving indigenous healthcare systems

In an age when science and technology are often regarded as tools which must be cutting-edge in order to be of value, the conservation of indigenous science and traditional knowledge is often overlooked. The preservation of indigenous medicine by the Indian government provides a valuable example of how greater access to healthcare can be achieved through the conservation of traditional knowledge.

Western medical care was brought to India during the colonial era. However, access to such medical care was at the time, and in many instances continues to be, limited. The cost of Western medical treatment, as well as the concentration of medical practitioners in urban areas, has meant that healthcare has been inaccessible to poor and rural communities across India. In an effort to increase access to medical treatment, the governments National Planning Committee (NPC) decided in 1938 to reclaim traditional medicines, including ayurveda, as part of the formal medical system of India. Ayurveda is an ancient method of health care that uses traditional medicines, combined with methods such as prescribed diets and yoga, to treat ailments based on the patients entire body, rather than isolating and targeting a particular health problem. This method, often focusing on prevention rather than treatment, is valued for its holistic approach.

In 1946 the Health Ministers Conference adopted the NPC recommendations to assimilate traditional practitioners into the national health system, and began establishing plans to invest in research and postgraduate training in traditional medicine systems, today called Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM). Measures were also taken to identify traditional medicine practitioners to participate on official government boards and councils. Today, more than 220 colleges in India produce 9,000 graduates in the varying forms of ISM each year and 100 colleges provide postgraduate training in ISM, which focuses on in-depth study of the ancient texts of ayurveda. As of 1994, there were 240,000 registered ayurvedic practitioners in the field. In addition, several government Central Councils direct research in ISM and two laboratories have been established to explore the uses of traditional medicines.

The Indian governments acceptance of traditional medicine has allowed citizens access to at least seven different healthcare systems, based on both traditional and Western medicine. The Health Care Research Programme of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha serves over one million rural Indians. Two-thirds of all rural Indians utilize the ayurveda health care system. Furthermore, government-sponsored research into traditional medicines has led to the development of treatments for such diseases as malaria, epilepsy, and obesity.