Quackery: gross violation of human rights

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It is unfortunate that, almost every occupation in Pakistan has been invaded by unprofessional, unqualified and fake people. The irony is the professions dealing directly with the lives and well-being of the people have been allowed to become a swamp for the swindlers to thrive. Surviving as a cheat became easier in a legal environment dating back to colonial era and spearheaded by political leadership lacking the will to enforce rule of law.  As awareness increased, because of a robust media, and civil society raising voice against negligence of ethics and values, things began to improve. New laws were introduced to protect the rights of labour, consumers, patients, litigants so on and so forth.  These barriers have made the entry of imposters difficult in many professions.

It is, however, one thing to resist the entry of a cheater in a profession, but another to take out rogue elements once they have ensconced in the system and have built a strong bulwark of likeminded people to support irregularities. Unless the law enforcers are looking for a complete rebellion, it is always wise to slowly wean out corrupt practices for any sustainable change.  But the naysayers argue that, without uprooting anomalies in all sectors, any revamping undertaken in a particular sector is discriminatory. Either the entire system, they demand, is overhauled or none is touched.   Nothing can be termed more absurd than this flawed thinking because two wrongs can never make a right. If the legal fraternity has not been able to take out all black sheep from its ranks, allowing quacks to continue infesting the profession of medicine, can in no way be a wise decision. The Punjab Health Commission’s drive to eliminate quackery in every form and manifestation is aimed at not only to rehabilitate the medical profession, but to also become a precedent for other professions to follow suit.  Rebuilding institutions is always painstaking and cannot be done in an overdrive.

Since the start of an exclusive anti-quackery cell at PHC some 8,200 quacks had been held and a fine to the tune of 63 million imposed.

Quackery is bad and there cannot be two opinions to that.  A quack can be defined as a clinician who is unskilled, ignorant, dishonest and employs bogus therapies for a profit. Quacks operate in both the mainstream and alternative treatment methods.   Quack, in the sense of a medical impostor, was originally called quacksalver meaning a person who cures with home remedies. Later the word was used for someone using false cures or knowledge.

Surprisingly, many educated people have been found seeking guidance from unprofessional doctors for quick and side effect-free treatment.  The fact is, no matter what type of medicine is consumed, all have both positive and negative effects. It is the right treatment, with the right medicine, at the right time, that brings relief.

However, poverty and illiteracy are two main reasons why people fall for fake doctors. When public health sector is not ubiquitous and people lack the resources to afford private doctors, quackery comes as the last resort to save life and limb.

The question is why quackery is dangerous and should be avoided.?  When we talk of quackery, we talk about a person who is claiming to know a disease and its treatment path, when in fact he has no clue, where he is taking his patient.  An old saying goes thus, “The highwayman demands ‘your money or your life,’ but quacks demand ‘your money and your life.” Quackery is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is a global health concern. All over the world, people have lost limbs, eyes, wombs, various body parts and even their lives.

Quackery is usually taken up by those who had been associated with a qualified doctor as assistant. In the process of working in a clinic, they learn which drug to prescribe for a treatment, the routes of administration, the therapeutic and side effects of various drugs. Over time, they also become expert in at least handling medical procedures like vaccinations, deworming and diagnosis/treatment of mild clinical conditions. However, their understanding of the cause and effect of a disease remains shallow.  Their knowledge about right does, how to counter side-effects, what to do if emergencies arise, never go above a superficial level. Therefore, most of the time their practices result in unpalatable consequences, such as disability or untimely death.  So before falling to the attraction of low bill or a quack’s glib talk, use your right to inquire about the doctor, clinics or hospital. Many hints, though, can come handy to identify quacks, such as outrageously low cost, unhygienic environment, rude staff, applying used needles.

These are just a few of many indicators to recognize a quack. There could be many other illicit practices. If every patient becomes aware of their right to request relevant credentials from a doctor, especially to find out whether the clinic or hospital is registered or licensed from the PHC, not only quackery will diminish, but quality of health sector would also improve manifold.