Ayurveda and the rise of New India: Ensuring the health of tribal children and adolescent girls

For all its wonders, modern medicine has been an embarrassing failure when it comes to ensuring the good health of the backward and vulnerable sections of society - the tribal children and adolescent girls. The reasons for this can be cultural, financial, or political, but it is an unambiguous fact that the health of tribals was woefully neglected in India in the past. 

But now, a new India is being built and it envisages the collective health and goodwill of all sections of the population, including and especially the tribal children and the women. And once again, it is Ayurveda that is entrusted to fulfill a task that modern medicine has failed to achieve.  

Two developments of major significance happened in the AYUSH sector during the past week. First was the announcement of the national-level project to address the health needs of children in tribal areas through Ayurvedic interventions. 

A joint initiative by the Ministry of Ayush and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the project aims to study the health needs of the Tribal population and cater to health care services addressing major problems like malnutrition, iron deficiency, anemia, and sickle cell diseases through Ayurveda interventions. 

The project is expected to benefit over 20,000 tribal students of 10-18 years of age group enrolled in classes 6th to 12th in identified 55 Eklavya Model Residential Schools across 14 states of the country.

“We will achieve the target of developed India by making our young children healthy today,” said Arjun Munda, Minister of Tribal Affairs. “The project will help in developing healthy lifestyle practices in children as per the principles of Ayurveda, thereby improving and protecting their health and overall well-being with emphasis on prevention of diseases.”

The second development was the MoU signed between the Ministry of Ayush and the Ministry of Women and Child Development for the nutritional improvement in adolescent girls through Ayurveda Interventions. In the first phase, the focus is to improve the anemic status of adolescent girls (14-18 years) in five districts of five states namely Assam–Dhubri; Chhattisgarh- Bastar; Jharkhand – Paschimi Singhbhum; Maharashtra – Gadchiroli; Rajasthan – Dhaulpur.

“Anaemia in adolescence causes reduced physical and mental capacity and diminished concentration in work and educational performance. It also poses a major threat to future safe motherhood in girls,” said Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of Ayush.

Approximately 95,000 adolescent girls are expected to benefit from this. Ensuring the good health of adolescent girls ensures they give birth to healthy children later in life. This also presents Ayurveda an opportunity to prove its merit to the world. 

“Ayush systems, backed by evidence from institutions like ICMR, will offer cost-effective solutions to tackle anemia, hitherto unknown to the world. This will provide opportunities for global medical communities to study and reflect upon, thus making this an initiative of global importance,” said Smriti Irani, Union Minister of Women and Child Development. 

These developments make it clear that Ayurveda has a much higher role to play in the rise of New India as the Viswaguru of righteousness and virtuosity than merely being an ‘alternative medicine’. For a nation to be good, its backward and vulnerable population has to be good. Ayurveda is here to ensure that they gain the needed physical and mental health to be the best. 

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