Mulleria, Kasaragod: Imagine somebody with the title ‘pilot’ attached to their name flying an airplane! The scenario in Kasaragod’s health sector, especially in some of the remote villages in the district, is similar.
There are several ‘doctors’ with degrees of alternative medicine like ayurveda or homeopathy who prescribe antibiotics and other allopathic drugs. Often, patients are given higher doses, imperiling their lives.
It is not an easy task to identify a quack from a genuine doctor, especially in rural areas where the literacy level is low and patients seek instant cure. Due to lax rules and laid-back attitude of the regulators including the health department, unqualified ‘doctors’ are taking vulnerable and ignorant patients for a ride.
According to unofficial figures, there are about hundred quacks and self-styled traditional healers in the two taluks of Kasaragod and Manjeswaram. Neither para-medics nor quacks are allowed to use the prefix ‘Doctor’, but boards put up outside their clinics carry their name along with an initial of a doctor.
Like qualified practitioners, they would check the blood pressure and monitor heartbeat using a stethoscope. Without doing any kind of diagnostic tests, they would ‘prescribe’ medicines based only on signs and symptoms. They would dispense medicines without prescriptions so as to avoid the burden of proof.
Rules stipulate that many commonly used medicines cannot be supplied without a prescription, but the authorities concerned are making no efforts to create awareness among general public or initiate action against unqualified medical practitioners who dupe gullible people.
In most of these clinics, medicines are not stored properly or at the recommended temperature, which reduces their potency. They prescribe and supply almost all the commonly used drugs, from paracetamol to costly antibiotics. There are many who perform wound closure and illegal abortion. They also administer injections in an unscientific manner. Outbreak of fever in the pre-monsoon period has always led to a windfall for the quacks.
Rural folks are forced to seek medical help from these unqualified persons due to the absence of government hospitals in their areas. Easy access also makes them popular among patients hailing from remote villages. If a patient with a common fever visits them, quacks would tell them that they are having dengue fever. They would prescribe antibiotics and a fee ranging between Rs 300-400 would be charged. The patient’s condition would get worse in no time.
Playing with lives for money
In the recent times, many instances of quacks putting patients’ lives at risk have been reported in Kasaragod.
There is an Ayurveda doctor couple residing in a village located on the Karnataka border who ‘practices’ modern medicine. A month ago, a woman approached them complaining of fever. They gave her medicines for three days. She visited them again after the drugs failed to bring the temperature down. Once again she was given medicines for another three days. In two weeks, she visited the hospital four times. Each time, she was made to pay a fee of Rs 300.
By the time health workers attached to the local primary health centre (PHC) visited her, she had swelling all over the body and bloodshot eyes. They rushed her to the general hospital in Kasaragod and the doctors there confirmed that she was suffering from leptospirosis (rat fever). However, both her kidneys had already been damaged due to the delay in availing proper treatment. Though her life was saved following advanced treatment at the Pariyaram Medical College Hospital, she is on dialysis at present.
In another border village, an Ayurveda doctor administered an injection to a female patient who was suffering from severe back pain. The patient died after a few hours. Though there were complaints of medical negligence, the authorities did not bother to conduct an investigation into the incident.
Recently, a doctor who runs a naturopathy clinic on the outskirts of Kasaragod town approached the health officials with an application seeking renewal of his license. The officials were stunned when they went through his certificates. He had no medical degree or certificate — in fact, he has not studied beyond Class X. The only valid document he possessed was a ‘traditional healer’ certificate. Ironically, he used to examine patients with a stethoscope.
There is another ‘doctor’ who practices in one of the endosulfan-affected panchayats in the district. Once a child suffering from stomach ache was taken to him. He prescribed some medicines and sent the patient back. The kid started writhing in pain in the night and was rushed to a private hospital in Kasaragod, but he was declared brought dead by the doctors there. The child was suffering from appendicitis, but the medicines given by the doctor were those commonly used for treating stomach pain.