IT is well known that the healthcare sector in the country is in a shambles, and has been so for decades. State-subsidised facilities are grossly overloaded and insufficient, leading to burgeoning private-sector set-ups that provide succour to those who can afford it. So what does the average Pakistani — among the millions of citizens who do not have pockets deep enough to pay for reliable treatment — do? The answer is provided by an unquantified and entirely unregulated industry that flourishes on the abuse of trust and the disregard of the ethics underpinning the Hippocratic oath. Quacks, as they are called, are individuals with little to no medical training; they masquerade as qualified practitioners, and not only dupe the public but also provide medical ‘treatment’ that is either pointless or complicates a health condition. It is welcome then that the Punjab Healthcare Commission has appealed to the public to approach only licensed medical practitioners and to use a PHC helpline to report fakes without fear of the caller’s name being revealed. On Friday, its spokesperson also claimed the shutting down of 34 centres run by quacks, including purported general practitioners, dentists and bone-setters. Even so, the extent of the problem means that such a move must necessarily remain a drop in the ocean.
There is no argument that centres of fake medical practice must be closed down and their principals brought to book. But also vital is the need to educate citizens about the ease with which such facilities can be set up and the perils of the healthcare fraud perpetrated. Too many people simply lack the awareness to distinguish between qualified medics and quacks, and fall prey to the temptation of shorter queues and easier access. Beyond that, it is time for the state to drastically improve and expand its regulated healthcare facilities. The needs of a steadily increasing population will not decrease; in taking a back seat, the state leaves the door open to all sorts of wrongdoing.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2018