Why quacks thrive

According to the Karnataka Ayurveda and Unani Practitioners Board, there are at least 10,000 illegal medical practitioners in the city

Updated - June 15, 2016 04:35 pm IST

Published - December 04, 2012 10:02 am IST - Bangalore:

In May this year, bus driver Azam Pasha (46) was arrested for circumcising a 21-year-old who bled to death. Pasha later confessed that he had been performing circumcisions for the last 25 years.

The Shivajinagar police said that although he claimed to be a registered medical practitioner, all his certificates were fake. They found Pasha, who performed the procedure using a razor under unhygienic conditions, did not even have basic training in medicine.

According to the Karnataka Ayurveda and Unani Practitioners Board, the nodal agency appointed by the Health Department to take action against quacks in Karnataka, there are at least 10,000 illegal medical practitioners in the city.

“While some call themselves traditional healers and operate from tents, many claim to hold a degree in a branch of medicine and even operate in well-established nursing homes,” said Thimmappa Shettigar, Registrar, Karnataka Ayurveda and Unani Practitioners Board.

Definition of quackery

The Supreme Court defines a quack as a “person who does not have knowledge of a particular system of medicine but practices [it] and [is] a mere pretender of medical knowledge or skills.”

Mr. Shettigar says that quacks thrive due to shortage of doctors and their skewed distribution across the State. For more than six crore people in the State, there are only around one lakh doctors, he pointed out.

A report by Ashok Kumar, Director, Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, attributes the rise in quackery to the lack of adequate infrastructure, healthcare delivery systems and qualified/trained human resources. Also to be blamed are lack of coordination among various stakeholders and poor monitoring.

Government failure

Admitting that the steps taken by the Health Department are “inadequate”, Prabhu Chandra, District Health Officer (Bangalore Urban), said that only three raids have been conducted over the past three months.

The Health Department was busy carrying out “development work” and did not have manpower for the task of carrying out raids, Dr. Chandra said.

Community hostility

Usually, raids are conducted by the Police Department and the District Health Officer or the District Ayush Officer. Visuals of raids make it clear that the local community opposes such action against the “unauthorised practitioners”.

In one instance in Tumkur district, one of the community members who opposed the raid says: “There was nobody to save my son at midnight and this doctor helped him.”

Mr. Shettigar said that it takes at least five hours to conduct an inspection and raid teams are sometimes verbally and physically abused. He admits that although the Karnataka Ayurveda and Unani Practitioners board has been entrusted with the responsibility of raids, they don’t have staff for this task.

No manpower

Police authorities also concur with this. Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) T. Suneel Kumar said that although the police have suo motu powers to conduct inquiries, they don’t have the manpower. Once the raids are conducted, the documents and certificates seized are sent for verification to the institutions that could be located anywhere in the country.

“By the time we receive [the feedback] the person concerned disappears. Though we have suo motu powers to investigate, we cannot [take someone into custody] unless we have concrete proof to book him under the appropriate sections,” he said.

He called for greater participation by the Health Department to tackle the menace.

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