Naturopathy is a preventive model of holistic care that addresses the root cause of various diseases rather than merely treating the symptoms

In India, there are a little over one million allopathic doctors to treat a population of about 1.39 billion, with one State-run hospital for about 90,343 people and a single Government hospital bed for nearly 2,046 people. It depicts a grim scenario with an overburdened healthcare system.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating for the already fragmented healthcare system. The outbreak clearly highlighted the lack of resources, facilities and infrastructure and so on. It showed that the Indian public healthcare system required an integrated approach which should be a combination of allopathic clinical or curative services and preventive services like naturopathy. This is because, an alternative system of medicine like naturopathy, with its preventive approach, can help reduce the burden of diseases and lessen the healthcare costs and the growing burden on healthcare facilities across the country.

According to a 2018 study published by ‘Lancet Global Health’, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are growing in India. The study mentions that from the year 1990 to 2016, ischemic heart disease and stroke made the largest contribution, that is 28.1 per cent of the total mortality rate in India, while chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma made the second-largest contribution to the total mortality burden in the nation, at 10·9 per cent.

Also, the ratio of cardiovascular diseases in causing deaths increased by 34·3 per cent from 1990 to 2016, the study revealed. These figures represent some of the world’s largest health losses, with enormous policy ramifications.

Furthermore, the lack of adequate facilities and infrastructure is a big problem for the healthcare system, resulting in overcrowding in hospitals. Many major metropolitan cities reported an alarming shortage of beds in hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and general wards during the pandemic.

Despite the poor state of facilities and due to the difficulty in accessing them, out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditure for healthcare in our country continues to be among the leading causes of poverty for many households. The British Medical Journal published a study in 2018 stating that 55 million Indians fell below the poverty line because of high OOP expenditure in 2011-2012. In a country with low per capita public spending on healthcare, a preventive method of treatment can certainly make a big difference in the lives of the citizens.

In such a situation, the big question is how can naturopathy help? Naturopathy is a preventive model of holistic care that addresses the root cause of various diseases rather than merely treating the symptoms.

Naturopathy is more integrated, where everything is taken into consideration, like the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional health and all the social and environmental factors. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), NCD’s result in the deaths of over 41 million people annually, with 15 million people dying between the ages of 30 and 69 years. With the increasing threat of NCDs, behavioural and lifestyle changes are reckoned as the way forward.

Naturopathy, with its holistic approach, educates and makes people more responsible for their health. The combination of yoga therapy and naturopathy can successfully treat patients and spread knowledge and awareness about health and disease among the public.

Unlike conventional medicine, the naturopathic treatment method usually involves diet therapy, lifestyle changes, yoga and various therapies that are often less expensive. Since naturopathy’s primary focus is to improve the body’s immunity system to boost physical and mental health, the need for expensive, repeated, and sometimes ineffective treatment is eliminated.

A major advantage of naturopathy is its ability to eliminate the associated healthcare costs that come with adverse reactions to prescription drugs. According to a Harvard University study published in 2014, about 3,28,000 patients in the US and Europe die from adverse reactions to prescription drugs each year.

The naturopathic treatment method uses therapies that are gentle, non-invasive, effective and do not have adverse side effects.

Often, economically vulnerable sections of the society fail to get the treatment they need from public health facilities as they are mostly overcrowded and understaffed. Even if they manage to get evaluated, it is cursory and incomplete on account of the time constraint under which most physicians operate. As a result, the health outcomes of the patients suffer. In such a scenario, naturopathy’s modality can be an immense support to the Government’s dream of universal health coverage, provided the standardisation of the practice happens soon.

Kr Raghunath, Senior Chairman, Jindal Naturecure Institute.