Unani may have disappeared from the country of its origin, but it has found root in India. Arab traders who entered through the Western Ghats long before Moghuls, introduced Unani here. The Khiljis, Tughlaqs and the Mughal emperors provided state patronage to Unani scholars and even employed some as court physicians.
Unani experienced its heyday between 13th and 17th centuries with the contributions of Abu Bakr bin Ali Usman Ksahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Ali Geelani, Akbal Arzani and Mohammad Hashim Alvi Khan. They subjected Indian drugs to clinical trials and added numerous native drugs to their own system, further enriching its treasures.
The British period saw the strictest restrictions imposed on any system of treatment other than allopathy. But despite these and the suspension of all aid to Unani institutions, the system survived due to the commitment of Hakims like Ajmal Khan. Ajmal Khan, who also served as the president of Indian National Congress in 1921, was a Unani physician and scholar of unmatched calibre. He founded the Ayurvedic and Unani Medical College in Delhi.
He also founded All India Unani and Tibbiya Conference in 1917 to counter the bad effects of the Medical Registration Act. He started Hindustani Dawakhana, one of the leading manufacturers of Unani medicines in the country. Hakim Abdul Hameed, the founder of Hamdard Dawakhana, is another well-known name in Unani in India and abroad.
He set up the highly successful Unani Tibia College in Delhi and the Jamia Hamdard University, whose faculty of pharmacy and science are rated one of the best in the country. He made products like Safi, Sharbate Rooh Afza, Sinkara, Gripe Water, Joshina, all household names. Among contemporary Unani physicians, Hakim Khaleefatullah's name stands out.
In 1989, he set up Niamath Laboratories, a modern indigenous pharmaceutical house for manufacturing genuine Unani drugs. Hakim Zillur Rahman, who has served at the Hakim Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College, Aligarh, for over 40 years before retiring as dean faculty of Moalijat (medicine), is known the world over for his unmatched contribution to Unani.
Author of 25 books on different aspects of Unani, he also owns one of the largest collection of books on Unani in the world. He recently launched the Bu Ali Sina Academy of Art and Science, which attracts a large number of people due to the sheer size and diversity of its library.
Unani is unmatched in treating chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma, mental, cardiac and digestive disorders, urinal infections, and of course sexual diseases.
Hakim Shamshad A. Khan, assistant director of Central Council for Research in Unani Medicines (CCRUM), a government body, says that recent research has proved that Unani medicines are highly effective in treating diseases like malaria, hepatitis B, leukoderma and skin problems.
Unani is also said to be effective in increasing immunity levels in AIDS patients. Hakim Usama Akram reports that the results of his research on Unani treatment in cerebral palsy among children have been encouraging, with children showing marked improvement in movement as well as cognitive levels.
Ziabetus or diabetes in its early stages is fully curable using Unani. Its efficacy in treating sexual disorders remains unrivalled. Hakim Jameel claims that Unani medicines permanently and effectively cure every sexual ailment, even sterility in women. Unlike modern medicines like Viagra and its Indian variants which have harmful side-effects, Unani also improves the general health of the person.
Today there are 40 undergraduate and postgraduate colleges teaching Unani medicine in India. These accord BUMS (Bachelor of Unani Medicines and Surgery).
Several colleges have recently introduced postgraduate courses in Unani and give MD degrees in Ilmul Advia (pharmacology), Moalijat (medicine) and Kulliyat (basic principles) as well as Jarahat (surgery) at Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College, Aligarh, and in Moalijat, Amraz-e-Niswan (gynaecology) and Amraz-e-Atfal (paediatrics) at Government Nizamiah Tibbi College, Hyderabad.
Several other colleges including Faculty of Medicine (Unani) at Hamdard University and Ayurvedic and Unani College at Karol Bagh in Delhi have introduced such postgraduate courses. There are over 150 Unani hospitals and 1,500 Unani dispensaries spread across 18 states of India.
There are around 50,000 Unani graduates in the country and most of them are practising physicians. Unani now forms an integral part of the national health care delivery system, and is recognised by the WHO as one of the alternative system of medicines. The Unani system is inexpensive, effective and easily available.
Realising its potential, the central and state governments have constituted the IMCC Act of 1970, which since 1973 has been implemented all over the country for standardization of education in the Unani system of medicine. Accordingly, a statutory council, CCRUM regulates the practice and education in Unani.
Hakim Jameel points out that following the global trend of rising interest in alternative and natural systems, Unani is also drawing attention in countries such as South Africa and Malaysia.
He adds that Unani healing is vibrant and vigorous today and is being practised, taught and researched under its local names in over 20 countries including Afghanistan, China, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and USA.
Even in financial terms, Unani is loaded with potential. There are several large and medium sized companies producing Unani medicines. There are a number of licensed manufacturers of Unani medicines both in the small and large-scale sectors, with their production being controlled by the government as well as private bodies.
These companies include Hamdard Dawakhana, Hamdam Dawakhana, New Shama Laboratory, Hamdam Hindustani Dawakhana, Sadar Dawakhana, Dehlevi Remedies, Rex Remedies, all in Delhi; Niyamath Pharmacies, Chennai, National Dawakhana, Calcutta, Islahi Drug House and Unani Remedies, in Mumbai.