She went to a local medical clinic situated close to her slum. Ten-year-old Meenu, the daughter of my maid, was suffering from mild fever when she thought of consulting a doctor. But even after taking six pills a day, Meenu’s condition continued to worsen instead of improving. It was then that my mom asked my maid to take Meenu to a government hospital, since they cannot afford a visit to a private doctor. Heeding my mother’s advice, Meenu was taken to a government hospital. Numerous tests were done and doctors found that Meenu had been consuming wrong medicines, which could have even claimed her life had she taken them for a few days more.
The doctors at the hospital realised that not just was Meenu not being administered the right treatment, even the doctor, whom Meenu was consulting earlier, was not qualified to treat anyone.
Thank God Meenu is safe and well, but what about the thousands of Meenus out there, who put their lives to serious risk by consul
ting ignorant and incapable persons, who pose as doctors. Many cases have come to light in the past highlighting that quackery is becoming a flourishing business in Delhi. In 2003, a 20-year-old girl suffering from fever had died after being treated by a quack. These ‘specialised’ quacks are the ones who least hesitate in aborting female foetuses, knowing that sex determination tests are illegal in India.
While quacks are ‘operating’ not only in Delhi, but across India, their spread in the Indian capital is alarming. An unofficial estimate released in 2004 indicated the presence of 40,000 quacks in the Capital itself. And what is the government of Delhi doing about it? The ‘preparedness’ of the Delhi government to counter the threat of quacks can be gauged by the fact that no official figure of quacks is available with the administration. In fact, an anti-quackery bill is still lingering somewhere in the files, waiting to get an okay of our ‘compassionate’ MLAs.
In a four-year-long study published last year, it was found that 93 percent of slum dwellers in Delhi turn to quacks in case of health problems, mainly because of financial reasons.
According to the study, the medicines prescribed by quacks as well as qualified doctors for complaints like diarrhoea, dengue, fever, and tuberculosis are similar. And the fees charged by quacks and qualified doctors is quite dissimilar, with the former charging anywhere between Rs 25-50, whereas the latter taking at least Rs 150 per consultation.
"These quacks are the only ones who are physically present in such urban slums. Enacting laws to prohibit their practice will not make any difference, as even today, they are running their clinics without any legal protection," says lead researcher CS Pandav.
Notably, most of the quacks playing with people’s lives in Delhi are former employees with hospitals or private clinics, and chemists.
Some efforts have been undertaken by the Delhi Medical Council and the Indian Medical Association to curb quacks. Both the organisations have been spreading awareness about quacks from time-to-time by launching various campaigns.
Earlier this year, the Council uploaded the names of all registered doctors in the capital on its website. This was aimed at helping Delhiites locate the right doctors in their localities. However, the point to be noted here is that a majority of people getting trapped in quacks’ net are illiterate. So, for them any sort of list is next to nothing.
As far as an act is concerned, the BJP had presented the Anti-Quackery Bill in the Delhi Assembly in 1997. Afterwards, it was directed to a select committee, which submitted its report in 1998. The report had proposed a few changes in the bill. While the politicians continued to debate and re-debate the merits and demerits, the bill lapsed. Since then, no action has been taken against quacks. The lack of a proper act helps quacks in getting bail easily and restarting their business of murders again. On their part, the police have so far failed to take any tangible action against quackery since it is not a cognisable offence.
Even after the reporting of a number of cases in media, it is depressing to know that the Delhi government has still not woken up to contain the quackery menace. And this will not be an easy task. First, the Delhi government needs to ensure the registration of all qualified doctors with the authority concerned. The government has issued directive in this regard, but reports claim that some ‘qualified’ doctor do not register themselves, just to save their time. Then, they need to run awareness campaigns to make certain that Delhiites do not, in any case, go to quacks for any sort of treatment. And meanwhile, launch a drive to shut the quacks’ clinics running across Delhi.
Most importantly, the Delhi government should ensure services of a sufficient number of doctors and that too at minimal fee to leave no room for breeding of quacks.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)