Quacks cash in on stigma around mental illness

November 29, 2013 12:09 pm | Updated 12:09 pm IST - Kochi:

The arrest of a person who allegedly tied up a mentally challenged girl and caned her as part of ‘treatment,’ at Pulluvazhy here, brings into focus the proliferation of fake doctors offering remedies in the name of science.

Police said M.D. Vaidya, who was running an institution named Brain Bridge at Elamakkara, was not a registered doctor and did not hold a valid medical degree. Vaidya, however, lured patients by stating that he had a ‘cure’ for mental retardation based on Vedic science.

“He told the complainants that their mentally challenged daughter would be cured within six months and charged Rs.14 lakh for the treatment,” said M.B. Latheef, sub-inspector of police, Kalamassery. Vaidya allegedly tied the girl to a chair, gagged her and hit her repeatedly with a cane. Cases of quacks harassing patients and fleecing them were unfortunately all too common, said Babu John Mathews, president of the Kochi chapter of the Indian Medical Association.

“All doctors are supposed to display their registration certificates in the room where they meet patients. But nobody stresses this point. The patient only wants a cure and doesn’t think about where it comes from,” he said. People were lured by claims of descent from traditional healers and made-up scientific ‘evidence.’ The lack of documentation and knowledge about some forms of alternative medicine also gave room for quacks, especially in the case of diseases for which modern medicine did not offer cures, said Dr. Mathews.

The stigma surrounding mental and psychiatric illnesses also prompted relatives of patients to approach quacks rather than licensed practitioners, said Ajeesh Ramachandran, psychiatrist, District Hospital, Aluva. He said advertisements taken out by medical practitioners should not be allowed as they were against the code of medical ethics. The accused doctor had advertised his methods extensively online and through newspapers. Police said he used the ads to give the appearance of legitimacy to his operations. Dr. Ramachandran called for a squad to be formed under the health authorities to check the registration certificates of those claiming to be licensed doctors.

District Medical Officer Haseena Muhammed said her office could not conduct raids on private medical practitioners unless there was a complaint. The onus was on the public to check the registration of doctors and report cases of quackery to prevent such cases, she said.

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