Spread across Kashmir ISM centers give patients both hope and alternatives. Saima Bhat reports how Unani medicine is helping cure diseases without disturbing a patient’s immune system
For the last four years, before the onset of winters, Naseema, 28, a teacher by profession, applies for long leave from her work as she couldn’t even hold a pen straight. She is suffering from arthritis. As winters approach, Naseema, says her hands get locked, deformed with continuous pain.
Four years back she visited a doctor who diagnosed her with arthritis; since then she is on allopathic medication, English pain killers. But there was no relief in pain. Then a friend told her about the Indian System of Medicine (ISM). She told her that they treat patients like her using traditional treatment methods.
Naseema is now a regular visitor to AAYUSH (Ayurveda, Amchi, Yoga, Unani, Sidha and Homeopathy) centre in SMHS hospital Srinagar. The centre, managed by Bachelors of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS) graduates, uses oil and herbal ointments massages to relive patients like Naseema of pain. After the massage, a patient is made to lie on a warm wooden bed for some time. This helps them to relax their muscles. Then the room is filled with steam extracted from different herbs. At the end of the session, Naseema is sweating but relived of pain. Before going home, Naseema is told to continue this process for the next week. “I feel better no doubt. But it would be too early to say how effective the procedure is,” says a hopeful Naseema.
“AAYUSH treatments at this ten-bedded ISM centre,” says Dr Altaf Hussain Shah, a senior doctor, “are best in pain management as we use Unani and Ayurvedic based treatments which are without any side effects.”
For instance, in September 2015, as many as 2022 patients were treated at this centre.
It was Hakim Ajmal Khan, founder of Tibbia College in Delhi and Jamia Millia Islamia University, who is credited with the revival of Unani medicines in the early 20th century in India. Unani treatment is believed to have 95,000 formulae for different ailments.
In J&K, AAYUSH falls under the directorate of ISM which was established in 1987, before that it was part of the department of J&K health services. However, compared to the health department, ISM gets only 4.61 per cent of budgetary allocation.
In 2003, ISM centres were introduced across different hospitals in J&K, by giving them a space within the government-run health units. In 2007 the state government introduced the Homeopathic system of medicine. Later ISM’s inclusion was made part of the state health policy in 2008.
At present, there are 650 Ayurvedic and Unani dispensaries functional across 22 districts in J&K. Srinagar alone has 24. However, the majority of ISM centres are located in the far-flung areas of the Kashmir valley.
Dr Shah says that prior to his postings in Srinagar, he has served in district hospital Shopian, where people preferably come for AAYUSH treatments rather than allopathic.
“I won’t be wrong to say that 95 per cent of Kashmiris follows Unani treatment. When our elder classifies vegetables as garm and sard it is what Unani teaches us,” says Dr Shah.
Under the Unani system, treatment is based on the equilibrium of four things: humurs (blood), balgum (phlegm), black and yellow bile. Dr Shah says when synchronisation of these four things gets disturbed a person gets ill. And mostly it is treated with the modification of meals and some minor herbal medicines.
In March 2015, Ruksana Muneer, 39, was a regular patient till her knee pain and continuous tickling were cured. She was advised to take steam and wet cupping therapies. The therapies helped her stay pain-free for almost eight months. After the therapy, she was able to climb the stairs again. But as the temperature started dipping, the pain came back. Ruksana, who has increased level of uric acid, suffers from arthritis and hypertension. “I have never tried allopathic medicines. I trust only Unani medicines.”
Ruksana was inspired by her father-in-law, a retired government official, who relied solely on Unani medicines for treating different ailments. “He is 85 and fit,” says Ruksana.
Every day Dr Shah attends more female patients than males who visit him for pain management, obesity, neck, back and leg pains, arthritis, lifestyle disorders and gynaecological disorders like infertility, PCOS. Dr Shah claims that patients who reach ISM centres are actually ‘super-speciality’ left patients.
“Most of them suffer from muscular-skeletal and I tell you with authority that we have 50 per cent positive results,” says Dr Shah.
For pain management, he says cupping treatment is most trustworthy. “Wet Cupping known as hijama in Islamic countries, is recommended for every Muslim,” says Dr Shah. “Every Muslim must go for Hijama once in a lifetime as it sucks out impure blood with all toxic chemicals.”
“Hijama,” claims Dr Shah, “is clinically approved.”
Earlier this year, a German tourist turned up at Haya Unani hospital, asking doctors that she wants to go for hijama or Cupping Therapy. The baffled staff asked her why she wants to go for hijama, as she looks fit. “The German lady replied, I am a Christian, and it is sort of a tradition to go for Cupping Therapy after every six months as it reduces dependence on antibiotics to a great extent. And it also cleanses one of all toxics,” shares Dr Feroz Naqshbandi, director of Haya Unani hospital.
Apart from hijama, dry cupping, slide cupping, full-body steam (for obesity and arthritis), Nasiyan (for sinusitis), Shiro dharma (for hair fall, stress), infrared therapy (or Takmeed for disc patients) are equally helpful therapies for different ailments.
“Steambath therapy given in a traditional Hamam helps in vasodilatation, as massage oils get absorbed in a better way,” says Dr Shah.
Clinical trials were conducted on patients suffering from Bronchial asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, which showed good results. The doctors say they have achieved a success rate of 69.2 per cent in treating Helminthiasis – a microparasitic disease in which a part of the body is infested with parasitic worms such as pinworm and roundworm. Besides that, there has been a 60 per cent success in treating Psoriasis.
There is another side of the story too. According to reports Unani doctors posted in peripheral areas prescribe allopathic (English) medicine to patients, thus confusing them.
“It happens because there is a shortage of regular MBBS doctors in far-flung areas. In such a situation ISM doctors have to run the show. They prescribe allopathic medicines for timely results as our treatments take time,” says Dr Shah.
In 2007, Dr Shah, who was posted in government hospital Keller in Shopian district, as assistant surgeon, used to prescribe allopathic medicines himself. “But then I got in touch with ISM head in Srinagar and managed the supply of Unani medicines for the hospital,” says Dr Shah. “Still I have to rely on allopathic medicine for treating cases like poisoning.”
As per the Supreme Court of India’s recent ruling, a BUMS doctor can prescribe allopathic medicines in emergency situations, but MBBS cannot prescribe Unani medicine at all. “Both Unani and allopathic medicine is different. Allopathic medicines work on infection and pain receptors, while Unani treats the root cause so that it, ailment, doesn’t start again,” says Dr Naqshbandi while showing at least 10 small packets filled with kidney stones, which he claims they have successfully removed without any surgery, with herbal treatments.