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Fears of government-sanctioned quack doctors proven true?

Unlicensed and unrecognised groups have abused state mechanisms to allow hundreds of illegal quack doctors to claim they practice medicine legally, reports suggest.

News of a bill proposed in the Lok Sabha that would allow practitioners of ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH) to practise allopathic medicine has sparked fears in the Indian medical community. Some believe that it would allow for the creation of government-sanctioned quack doctors. The news of this abuse of state authorisation could further these fears.

Practitioners of alternative treatments other than AYUSH therapies are not authorised to call themselves doctors or licensed practitioners by any recognised government body within India. Recent news has unveiled that groups have circumnavigated these authorisation procedures.

Copyright: kerdkanno / 123RF Stock PhotoA group referring to itself as the “National Board of Alternative Medicine” has, since 2013, published  the names of 522 individuals as government-sanctioned alternative medicine practitioners in the Tamil Nadu Government Gazette.

“It said ‘National Board’, so we initially thought it was from the health department,” said stationery and printing department director J Jayakanthan. The matter was overlooked as it was a private advertisement. At a later date an official pointed out that the National Board of Alternative Medicine was not a government recognised board.

The state medical council has filed complaints against some of the illegal doctors. Jayapandi Karuppusamy, for example, was accused of using fake degree certificates from Annamalai University. Using his fake degree he went on to fake a temporary registration certificate to enable his medical practice.

There are potentially one million quack doctors operating freely in India. Their prevalence among the population is likely due — at least in part — to the lack of real doctors and medical infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

The quacks often cause more issues than they solve. Recently a man practising quackery in Uttar Pradesh was arrested after being implicated in causing an outbreak of HIV. He was accused of using the same syringe among many individuals, possibly spreading HIV infected blood between individuals amongst a number of villages.

It is this lack of basic medical training on safety precautions that makes a quack dangerous. Some have expressed disapproval that AYUSH practitioners have been equated to quacks, claiming they will function perfectly as doctors due to similar training in university to actual medical courses.  The president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has disputed this, claiming the move could create “an army of half-baked doctors”.

To address the situation of those illegally claiming the title of doctor in the state of Tamil Nadu, State Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan has said legal action will be used.

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