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Quackery: Playing with Human Health

With so much going in the world, still the headlines on our television sets or newspapers would have a story of a naïve citizen of Pakistan, brutally affected due to negligence of a ‘phoney’ doctor.

By Dr Muattar Hanif

According to a recent Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) report, there are an estimated 1,65,000 HIV-positive patients in Pakistan: 75,000 in Punjab; 60,000 in Sindh; 15,000 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The main reason attributed for the high figures was unqualified medical practitioners/ quacks and large-scale medical malpractice via used syringes and unsterilized medical tools. With such a debilitating situation in the backdrop the attention towards Quackery becomes more compelling, than ever before.

It is said that such malpractice is highly prevalent, especially among third world countries like Pakistan. With dental quackery highly reported, quacks in the field of medicine are equally prominent. People with no professional background can easily extract teeth, heal the pain, perform intricate surgeries and at times can even bring back the dead. All this without any knowledge resulting in lifelong complications and infections!

How many people are affected with Quackery?

With each passing day, thousands of people either lose their lives or suffer great loss at the hands of quacks in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, there are no reliable data sources and official figures to determine the number of people affected directly by quackery. In spite of growing media reports, we know it for a fact that the reality is way graver than the reports. A simple infection resulted in amputations and a simple fever turned into death. No matter what the first reason of encounter was with a quack, the end always would be disaster.

How many Quacks are there?

Pakistan Medical Association did a press conference few years back, where it was stated that “over 650,000 quacks, including 60,000 to 70,000 in Karachi, are busy in playing with the lives of the people across the country.” Quackery is multiplying at a radical speed now. These quacks have their presence everywhere. From the very corner of the streets, to the pavement on the side of the road, these fraudulent doctors are present. These sham clinics are one stop for all treatment, fully equipped to face any presenting complaint. Many quacks have their shops settled, where many low to middle income people prefer visit often. Others have their nooks in the shrines or near ‘holy’ places. These Babas have become the so called messiah for the poor who wants to get treated. These quacks surely have reached to places where other spheres of life couldn’t.

So why people go to Quacks?

It’s not always accessibility, People do prefer quacks over qualified doctors because they are cheap, and have enough time to give attention to their patients. Being friendly, they adjust their method of treatment as per the suitability, requirement and demand of their patients. With flexibility in their approach, they are very good in winning over the confidence of the patient.Taking advantage of the respect given to doctors these quacks play havoc as they usually attain the status of messiah in the community they operate and take advantage of illiteracy.Many of these quacks have managed to put a façade for over 20 years! The way they con poor people, depends on the patients level of awareness. Just one pill (usually contains steroid) and patients seems to feel great. If the patient dies, they attribute it to God’s will instead of medical negligence.

Quacks- more than a mafia

But these quacks are not working independently. It’s a tough network, operating more like a mafia. When a quack sees any possible complications due to the performed treatment, they instantly refer patient to another quack colleague. There are cases reported when qualified doctors become part of such illegal activities just for the sake of easy money. In return for their services, these doctors get their commission. In case of raid by police, these canny quacks abruptly shut their clinics. Thanks to the tip-off they received via online messenger apps.

When doctors turn their back, poor looks up to Quack

In a society where money is everything, corruption becomes easy. Doctors who took Hippocratic Oath slowly becomes least bothered about ethical practice of medicine in the community. Medical professionals start charging huge fees and accept expensive gifts from sponsored pharmaceutical companies. Hence, the poor and needy continue to suffer. This situation becomes lot more favorable for quacks as they continue to cause death on clients. The ignorant people continue believing that Allah has decided this for them, not the quacks!

So why these quacks are still prevailing?

The answer lies in the general awareness and education of laymen in this regard. As long as the public doesn’t identify with their health needs, quackery is here to stay. And it will continue till we have we have our unregulated and disorganized health care system. Since the health system is poorly organised and majority of Pakistani population cannot afford private health care. This helps the quacks to exploit the situation by offering cheap and “affordable” care.In underdeveloped places of Pakistan, no professional healthcare wants to serve the people. The natives of rural area are then forced either to travel to cities, or chose substandard health options available nearby. The quacks hence take advantage of this situation, since not many people can afford travelling. With the unsterilized instruments and prescribing antibiotics without proper dosage, quacks put the population of the area in danger.

How to combat against quackery?

The law enforcement agencies and the judicial systems need to appreciate the gravity of quackery and its impact on people lives in Pakistan. Quackery should be classed as a crime. The perpetrators should be brought to justice for compensation to the losses incurred by quackery.

There has also been a lack of drive from the health professionals to actively tackle this situation by devising the practical strategies. Undergraduate medical and dental students should be taught medical ethics. It should be made compulsory to practice with honesty. Also, recruitments to rural areas or underdevelopment areas must be ensured to provide service to underprivileged people.

People should be made aware of the ways to spot a registered, qualified doctor from a fake one. In this regard, application software like Authentik App can become handy. The more awareness campaigns are launched in this regard, the better it is. People who are more likely to be the target of this fraud should made alarmed to stay cautious of scams. Only then people can help themselves and their loved ones.

Everyone linked with the Healthcare of Pakistan needs to unite to fight against the evil of quackery, only then the innocent lives can be saved.

January 17, 2020

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Dental is part of the Medical News Group of publications which in 1968 became the pioneer of medical journalism in Pakistan. Medical News is the only periodical in Pakistan which has 3 simultaneous editions from Karachi, Islamabad and online.

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