New Delhi: The clinic defines optimum use of space. It stores medicines on labelled shelves in the back, and lines up benches for patients along a wall by the doctor’s cabin. The reception brims with medical journal clippings in Urdu; the few in English explain that Unani medicine has no side effects since it’s herbal.
Aslam Javed runs one of a few clinics in Delhi that prescribe only Unani medicine. “Since most Unani doctors practise allopathy medicine as well, the pure Unani clinics are restricted to areas of old Delhi,” he says, “And because of this, we can reach out to a very limited number of people.”
Traditional Unani doctors are becoming rare today with most patients opting for modern medicine. But some are determined to transmit their skills to the next generation
Javed set up a clinic in old Delhi in the 1980s after he graduated from the Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College in the Capital. After practising there for a number of years, he realized he had to move to be able to expand. Consequently, he set up a small outfit in south Delhi’s New Friends Colony.
“Old Delhi has enough clinics, and so the number of patients tends to stagnate. At this clinic, I have catered to many more patients and have also tried to create a presence for Unani medicine online,” he says as he displays his website (Unaniherbal.org) on a laptop and guides the cursor to the “get online treatment” tab.
Javed’s assistant responds to online queries as they come in, and every morning orders from the previous day are dispatched. Javed zeroed in on this concept in 2008 and since then it has steadily gained momentum. For Javed, this is an attempt to encourage young graduates to continue practising Unani medicine.
Health check: Aslam Javed with a patient at his clinic. (Priyanka Parashar/Mint)
“Everyone wants to do an MBBS these days and even the few who graduate in BUMS (bachelor of Unani medicine and surgery) practise only allopathy. The government has failed to recognize the potential in Unani and has curbed its growth,” he says.
Across Delhi, only 80 students can register at a time for an undergraduate course in Unani. The resources are limited and funding always falls short of the requirement. Besides, many students opt for a Unani course as a Plan B, in case they don’t get through to an MBBS course.
“Had the government created a university of Unani medicine as per the promise of the Indian National Congress party during the elections of 2009, we would have been in a much better position,” Javed says.
He also says that more Unani dispensaries are necessary across the city to increase access in areas where hakims—as Unani practitioners are known—are hard to find.
Javed recalls when his mentor taught him the art of making medicines by grinding herbs in prescribed quantities and boiling them at an optimum temperature to create treatments specific to a patient. “The new generation does not know this art. They purchase medicines off the shelf and prescribe it without a thorough understanding of the case at hand.”
The government, he says, seems to believe Unani belongs to a small community of people and has, therefore, done little to promote the practice. Unani hospitals are limited and the funds dry up fast, he says.
Doctors graduating in BUMS are shifting to the more lucrative allopathy stream since they are trained in both Unani and allopathy, he says. Besides, only a handful of BUMS graduates get jobs in government-run Unani hospitals.
“These days, everyone wants quick money and quick relief, and hence the shift to allopathy,” Javed says as he walks us through his storeroom. Picking up a bagful of powders, pills and oils, he explains that a combination of the three offers a permanent cure for kidney stones.
Since many of the ingredients essential to Unani medicines are now imported, costs have soared. This, in turn, has led to a drop in the production of Unani medicines.
Javed, through his 21 years as a practitioner of Unani, says he has noticed that the only two companies that manufacture quality Unani medicine are Rex Remedies and Hamdard. Hamdard has gradually shifted its focus to its premium brands of Rooh Afza drink concentrate and Safi herbal extracts for the skin.
Much of the reading material on Unani is in Urdu, drastically limiting access to it. This and a dearth of people willing to translate these texts have weakened the command that Unani had in the sphere of healthcare. “Very few people read Urdu these days and that is a prerequisite for studying Unani. This has acted as a deterrent for those who may have been interested,” says Javed.
He would like his son to practise Unani and incorporate technology to widen its reach. He is encouraged by the interest his 12-year-old son shows when they make medicines at home to treat simple ailments. “I have no problem if my son wants to practise Unani. I will support him just as my father supported me,” says Javed.
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