Bereft of adequate government health services, quacks are the only available option for treatment to rural people in Chhattisgarh

Imprisoned quacks are always replaced by new ones, said the famous German pathologist Rudolf Virchow. The observation fits aptly the current situation of rural India where playing with the lives of hapless villagers is an established network of quacks who give a damn for the medical fundamentals. And living on the mercy of such quacks are the poor villagers of Chhattisgarh.

Besides a serious lack of health services in the tribal and rural regions of the State, 50 posts are awaiting recruitment of health workers, including doctors.

Doctors, again, avoid their duties in remote rural areas where the public health centres are of little help. Once a week or in a fortnight, employees of the health department come to the centres as a formality. On the other hand, the private health centres set an exorbitant fee rendering the villagers vulnerable.

The tussle between poverty and illness forces the villagers to the doors of Jholachaap doctors or quacks. These doctors, who mostly do not have degrees, save the villagers money, time and several unnecessary tantrums of the staff of distant government health centres. In fact, seasonal illness increases the importance of the quacks. When rains block the muddy paths disrupting the access of the villagers to health centres, quacks that operate in the vicinity are the sole source of help. They commute either on bicycles or walk their way to the patients.

Quacks inevitably have learnt the ‘art’ by working as a compounder with a city doctor or pharmacist. After gathering handful of knowledge, they head towards backward regions where there is severe lack of awareness. They target areas where even government health services can’t reach or have not reached.

For instance, take the panchayat of Kanker district, North Bastar. Here there are three to four such so-called ‘doctors’ offering their services to the locals. Some of them have even set up clinics, complete with a shining brass nameplate at the entrance. But, not always do they manage to come out safe with their guesswork diagnosis. Their experiments have sometimes proved fatal and written about in the local newspapers. However, a lot of the local people continue to depend on these non-degree ‘doctors’, perhaps due to unavailability of other options.

The quacks have their own logic to continue functioning. “Even if we are wrong in public opinion, we understand the local environment better than the city doctors. We are well aware of the condition of our patients, an understanding that no college degree can provide. We neither expect anything as in the case of government employees nor rob the patients of their money. With our minimal experience, we offer better treatment,” said one of them.

And they will continue to flourish in the wake of the State Health Department’s abysmal statistics. Data reveal that the number of doctors present in various hospitals of the State is less than half of that required. Government officers complain that it is easier to find teachers here as compared to qualified doctors willing to work among the villagers. Not only the hospitals, even the State’s primary and community health centres face acute shortage of doctors.

(Charkha Features)