Despite India’s growth in the medical field, modern health services addressing common health issues such as malaria and infectious diseases remain largely inaccessible to marginalized populations. In rural areas, hospitals are scarce and allopathic medicine is expensive, making tradition systems of medicine the primary healthcare source for 80% of the world’s population (WHO). For the rural populations, local traditional healers can provide quality healthcare that is affordable, accessible and sustainable.
Working for the last 30 years to revitalize traditional systems of medicine, JJVS has brought medical relief to thousands of community members across 8 states. These traditional healers, named Gunis, have been treating common illnesses utilizing local medicinal plants in India for hundreds of years.
Gunis: The Revitalization of Rural Traditional Healers
Gunis can be found in practically every village in India. Generally, Gunis possess remarkable skills in solving common rural health issues, including bone setting, skin diseases, asthma, snakebites, sciatica and chronic pains.
First, we began by identifying and documenting traditional healers across the country. With the help of local democratic bodies like Panchayats and Gram sabha, JJVS has identified over 1,000 Gunis and registered many with local governments. This official certification from local governments provides village-level recognition for the Gunis and protects their intellectual property rights. This is the largest and most authoritative listing of traditional healers in existence.
The next project was to survey and record the remedies used by Gunis. After compiling a large volume of folk medicine, JJVS published the Guni Pharmacopoeia in 1998 containing 80 herbal remedies used by traditional healers for centuries. As the most comprehensive catalogue of non-Ayurvedic traditional health knowledge, this book forms the basis of much of our research and training activities. In 1999, JJVS published a taxonomic record of medicinal plants in the Udaipur region, listing descriptions and applications for over 300 species.
Alongside these projects, JJVS has developed training, knowledge exchange and public awareness programs to fully establish Gunis and traditional systems of health as a dynamic and important health alternative in rural areas.
We hope to train our male and female Guni network in Aaditherapy, a holistic training program accessible to both literate and illiterate healers based around traditional understandings of Ayurveda and naturopathy and incorporating manual therapies such as myotherapy, bone therapy, and other manipulation techniques. We have currently trained 30 Gunis as trainers in Aaditherapy, and hope to launch a sustainable and widespread training program for the many Gunis in our network in the near future.
JJVS has developed a three-phase training program to better equip Gunis with medical skills and knowledge.
First Phase: Exchange of Information and Human Anatomy
Gunis exchange understandings of traditional medicine and treatment methods, as well as discuss the definition and role of Gunis in society. To strengthen their medical skills, Gunis discuss symptoms and causes of common diseases in rural communities, share herbal formulations and attend classes on human anatomy.
Second Phase: Medicinal Plant Identification and Preparation in Forest
Gunis participate in a 10-day forest tour along with botanists, Ayurveda practitioners and research scholars to identify wild medicinal plant species and exchange traditional knowledge. They gather plant specimens for herbarium preparation and collect seeds to conserve endangered species.
Third Phase: Herbal Formulation Demonstrations
Gunis share traditional knowledge with each other regarding herbal formulation, doses and conception methodology, restrictions and instructions when applying the medicine under supervision by an Ayurveda practitioners or pharmacist. In this stage, formulations are practiced and standardized
Following this training, JJVS screens out those who meet the Guni classification criteria and guides them through a validation process that lasts for an additional 2-6 months.
In order to provide both livelihood opportunities to Gunis and affordable healthcare treatment to villagers, JJVS assists Gunis in establishing home-run clinics. In these clinics, Gunis maintain a household storage of crude herbs and prepared medicines for distribution and treatment, usually involving their family members in the collection and preparation of medicines. Due to the large number of patients that come to the clinics, Gunis are able to earn an average income of Rs.3000 – 5000/month while charging patients only a minimum cost of Rs. 20-40 per treatment.
To increase the popularity of traditional medicine, JJVS organizes treatment and awareness camps in rural and urban area where several Gunis treats a large number of patients over multiple days. Patients are given medicines for 15 days, and 20 days later a follow-up camp is organised. These Guni health camps have increased the local recognition and validation of Gunis’ practices.
JJVS has created the Guni Alliance to establish the Bio-Geo- Cultural based units of Gunis at local and regional levels, thereby linking national authorities on bio-diversity conservation and promotion of traditional medicine. The Guni Alliance provides a platform for Gunis to share their experience and advocate for the national recognition of traditional medicine as a viable form of health care. To strengthen the Guni Alliance, we have organized several events at the state or national level, e.g. Guni Sammelan, Guni Haat and Guni Mela.
JJVS has established a centralized Guni Medicine Bank at Guni Ashram in the village of Kurabar where patients can access treatment and medicines of a particular Guni. This Medicine Bank is also a research site for conducting studies on the standardization and efficacy of Guni medicines. At the Medicine Bank, experienced Ayurveda practitioners test ancestral formulations in order to validate and promote medicines at the village level.
VALIDATION of TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
To warrant traditional systems of health, JJVS regularly organizes a team of botanists and Ayurveda practitioners to perform literature reviews and botanical reviews of the Gunis’ healing methods.
Literature reviews assess the safety and efficacy of herbal medicine, whether derived from a single plant or from a defined mixture of plants. The literature search includes reference books, review articles, systematic surveillance of primary sources and database searches.
Holism is a key element of all systems of traditional medicine, as illnesses are simultaneously treated on the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental levels. Therefore, when reviewing the literature on traditional medicine (both herbal medicines and traditional procedure-based therapies), it is important to understand the theories, concepts and cultural backgrounds behind the individual practices. To achieve this objective, literature reviews take note of a variety of factors, including diagnosis, dosage, duration of administration, criteria for evaluation (such as improvement of symptoms), simultaneous therapy and statistical analysis.
Botanical identification is the first step in assuring the quality, safety and efficacy of herbal medicines. For botanical reviews, JJVS collects the Latin binomial name and synonyms, vernacular names, the parts of the plant used for each preparation and detailed instructions for sustainable harvest.
JJVS is currently in the process of establishing a Traditional Medicine Knowledge Centre. Based at the Guni Ashram, this centre aims to be an education facility focused on teaching Gunis, community members, students and visitors about traditional herbal medicines used in the local area.
As part of this project, a smaller facilitation centre and pharmacy is being established at the main office in Bedla. This centre will showcase medicinal herbs from the area and act as a connection between farmers and customers.
Through its Volunteer and Intern Programme, JJVS also aims to provide exceptional herbal education to visitors from around the world. By embracing all herbal medicine practitioners and their crafts, JJVS aims to learn more about other country’s medicinal herbs whilst educating others about local practices.