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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 08:26 GMT
Traditional medicine being exploited
Ayurvedic medicine
Ayurvedic medicine is highly specialised
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Jill McGivering
BBC South Asia Correspondent

Unqualified doctors are exploiting the boom in traditional Indian massage treatments, say experts.

Ayurvedic medicine has been practised in India for thousands of years.

But interest in the technique has been growing in other parts of the world with the general trend towards holistic medicines.

It has become a big tourist attraction in the south Indian state of Kerala.

But some doctors say the ayurveda offered to tourists is often not genuine - and as well as damaging ayurveda's reputation, could even harm the patients themselves.

The devotees don't say all commercialism is bad - but they do want ayurveda practised seriously, not turned into a side show for tourists.


Tourists are offered one-off massages
Boards advertising ayurvedic centres are dotted between the tourist cafes and souvenir shops on the beautiful beach at Kovallam.

Most seem geared towards one hour massages, using oils, and most of the tourists here seem to see it as a chance to relax rather than a real medical treatment.

One tourist told me: "It feels more like a good massage than medicinal, just nice to have your body toned up a bit, that's as I'd see it, rather than medical."

However, the relaxed attitude is not shared by Dr PM Warrier, who leads the medical team of Arya Vaidya Sala, a major ayurvedic hospital in Kerala.

He accuses tourist centres of denigrating this centuries old system of healing.

He said: "They are spoiling the name of ayurveda - ayurveda is not just a massage.

"A person undergoing this massage thinks this is only treatment or only system that is available in ayurveda.

"It's not like this. Ayurveda is a science and this treatment is only a part of it."

Holistic approach

Ayurvedic herbs
Ayurvedic herbs are studied scientifically
The hospital uses massage, but only as part of a holistic approach that also includes changes to diet, lifestyle and meditation.

Treatments and medicated oils are prescribed like medicine, tailored to each case - and patients stay for two to four weeks of intensive treatment.

Ayurvedic herbs are studied scientifically, and students take seven years to qualify.

Dr Sudha Kumari is a post-graduate student who says a less medical approach could even harm tourists.

He said: "Actually Iżm not at all satisfied with tourist ayurveda - because the patients who are admitted are not getting proper treatment.

"According to ayurveda, the treatment differs between each patient and each medicine that we are giving differs with each patient so I think it will have some ill effect on the patient if the treatment is not handled properly."

Joan Ryder, from England, is one tourist who came to India to try ayurveda.

But she was left disappointed by both the technique and lack of consultation.

She said: "I'm quite surprised that I haven't had to undress. I find that quite odd because I feel like my underwear is being massaged, I can't see the point of that.

"I've also been told that when you arrive at these places, you're interviewed by doctors - well, I've met two doctors but I haven't actually been interviewed so Iżve no idea what the oil is they're putting on me."

See also:

25 Jan 99 | Health
When East meets West
19 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
Patent to protect ancient knowledge
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