In most cases, where a poor man in Pakistan suffers from a medical or dental problem, it becomes a serious dilemma for him. Many of the vast rural areas have no proper health care facilities, and the local population has no option but to rely on some ill qualified quack, who claims some experience, but very little knowledge of medical sciences.
Even if there are some qualified doctors in town, the treatment expenses are too high for the poor Pakistani. Therefore, a large number of common families are relying on the more affordable option – The Quacks or unqualified road-side medical practitioners.
Talking to these common victims of quacks, we usually get to hear comments like; “The price of dental treatment is expensive, I cannot afford it. These quacks offer cheap treatment. For just a few hundred rupees, we can et relief from pain, disease or toothaches.”
These cheap alternatives to real doctors can easily be found on virtually any roadside in Pakistan. They sit along the streets or in small kiosks, where patients may get relief from their current sufferings. However, the quack's lack of scientific medical knowledge, unscientific drugs or un-sterilized equipment may lead the patient into some other life-threatening infection or disease like hepatitis B or C.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered health secretaries to take action against quackery, but so far nothing has happened. A year later, the government passed the Health Care Commission Act and asked all local authorities to end quackery in their districts. But many of them operate in rural areas that have limited medical facilities.
The government has estimated the presence of more than 600,000 of unqualified doctors all over Pakistan. These sham doctors can be seen, making tall claims about treatment of every ailment, even some deadly diseases. These offenders are actually playing with millions of lives without any official license or qualification. Many poor people are forced to visit them instead of the qualified practitioners. The poor patients are not aware that after saving a few hundred rupees at the quacks clinic, they may soon end up losing all their wealth and their precious health. The poor victims are advised that they must protect their wellbeing in the long run, by searching a little further to find a reasonably priced legitimate clinic.
Ahmed Khan, 50, is a quack who sits on a pavement in Rawalpindi’s busiest square for the last two decades, and he offers medical treatment to a wide range of patients. He’s well known among his clients ― two to three dozen patients visit him every day ― he is recklessly attempting to treat every disease from headaches to dental problems. When questioned about his occupation being a threat to public health, he simply responds; “I’m experienced in doing this job, I have treated hundreds of patients so far. The majority of them get relief after my treatment. Otherwise, why would they visit me?”
When his patients were questioned about their choice of this illegal health-care service, most of the patients said that they are from poor families and cannot afford anything else. Ahmed Khan and others such quacks are charging as little as 100 rupees for the check up and also provide cheap unregulated medicine.
Muhammad Qasim Khan, 45, still regrets his decision to visit one of these unqualified people for his illness. “I went to a quack near my house for medication for my fever,” he recalls. “But he injected me with something, and now I’ve been infected with hepatitis. I’m now undergoing treatment for this fatal disease. It’s been a lesson for me ― never ever go to a quack. They can be deadly.”
Dr. Muhammad Nawaz Khokar is among those who are concerned about the practice. “They’re playing with the lives of innocent people,” he says. “And they have no expertise in diseases. They use unsterilized equipment, which is a major reason for the spread of diseases from one patient to another. This is how the majority of diseases are being transmitted in Pakistan.”
Dr. A.K. Niazi – Head of Rawalpindi District health office stated “We have started to crack down against them, but they have strong backing, “There’s a law against quacks, but it’s not implemented. According to the law, quacks should be put behind bars and are not eligible for bail.”
Over the years, we have observed that a large number of illegal clinics have been closed down. But we rarely see these fake doctors being imprisoned or punished with heavy penalties. The PMDC and health ministry has been unable to contain this menace of quackery which is threatening millions of Pakistani lives.