|Source: The Hindu|
I recently completed a Panchakarma program at a spa in London, which specializes in Ayurveda, a traditional medicine system that originated in India 5,000 years ago. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means "science of life" or "knowledge of longevity." Unlike in Western medicine, Ayurvedic treatments likePanchakarma (a multi-day rejuvenation program) are highly personalized, focusing on preventive care rather than cure, and treat the body and mind holistically.
Just afterwards, I heard President Obama announce his drastic healthcare reform program, aimed at lowering US public deficit while making healthcare available to all Americans. I sincerely hope that as part of this reform, Obama's administration will focus on disease prevention rather than cure and seek input from alternative medicine experts in preventive specialties like Acupuncture and Ayurveda.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study has projected that chronic conditions will become the leading cause of disability across the world by 2020. If not successfully prevented and managed, chronic diseases will become the most expensive problems faced by our health care systems. People with diabetes, for example, generate health care costs that are two to three times those without the condition. Many costly and disabling conditions — cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases — are linked by common preventable risk factors.
Unfortunately, health care providers and insurers in Western societies do not make the best use of their available resources to support this process and are reluctant to incorporate preventive and personalized programs of treatment. Yet by improving the holistic health and wellness of all American workers and citizens, both governments and corporations could save hundreds billions of dollars currently wasted in untargeted, inefficient therapies.
Ironically, while traditional Western health care providers are still focused on "disease care," it is consumer good suppliers like Nike and Whole Foods that are taking the lead in delivering preventive health care — and profiting from doing so. For instance, Nike has expanded their offerings far beyond running shoes, to include Yoga mats and other gear. Since Ayurveda is considered the "sister science" of Yoga, I can even envision Nike (or a competitor) one day selling goods and services that combine the joint benefits of Ayurveda and Yoga. Similarly, Whole Foods is increasingly packing its stores' shelves with healthy, organic products for a wide range of dietary needs. Let's hope that more food and lifestyle product and service providers will emulate Nike and Whole Foods and actively participate in health promotion and disease prevention strategies. But why should health care providers not follow suit?
European countries like Germany, Switzerland, and the UK are well ahead of the US in adopting alternative medicine to rein in their countries' skyrocketing healthcare costs. To continue with Ayurveda as a case study, the UK government has asked top universities and experts like Dr Rohan Nagar, my doctor, to investigate the therapeutic value of Ayurveda in treating chronic diseases like diabetes — which afflicts nearly 2 million in the UK. And Ayurvedic products are commonly distributed by many German retailers. (If you are interested in finding your own Ayurvedic profile, take this test). Recently, the Swiss people voted in favor of a constitutional article for complementary medicine, making Switzerland the first country in Europe to set out authority in the constitution for constituent states (cantons) to take complementary medicine into consideration in the public health service.
How can the US catch up? By working closely with relevant consumer goods providers, the Obama administration could induce healthy lifestyle changes among mainstream Americans too. And it can dramatically improve their quality of life of US citizens by incorporating complementary medicine into public health programs — and perhaps save the deficit-laden US healthcare system.
Navi Radjou is the Executive Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.