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Quacks who kill should be held accountable

<em><strong>Recent years have seen numerous cases of unqualified 'quacks' prescribing medicines which cause the patient to die.</strong></em>
Recent years have seen numerous cases of unqualified ‘quack’ doctors prescribing medicines which cause the patient to die.

The family of a woman who died in 2000 after a homoeopath prescribed her medications that caused fatal complications have received justice in a consumer protection hearing which found the homoeopath liable for medical negligence. This is far from an isolated incident: numerous cases occur where so-called ‘quacks’ prescribe medicines improperly, resulting in the patient suffering complications and even dying. 

The case, which occurred in Nagpur, saw the accused prescribe Baralgan and Dexamethasone to the woman after she complained of stomach pains. The injections caused the woman to experience an anaphylactic reaction, resulting in her death. 

Nineteen years later, the homoeopath’s practise of medicine despite his lack of qualifications has been flagged by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) as a case of medical negligence. A state commission had earlier found the same, even though the homoeopath was acquitted in a criminal prosecution over the woman’s death. The ruling by the NCDRC was sparked by the homoeopath appealing the ruling of the state commission.  

“It is clear that the opposite party, being a homoeopathic practitioner, is not having any authority to administer allopathic medicines i.e. injections,” the NCDRC said in its judgement. “Thus, without any authority he administered the said injections of allopathic medicines and as [the patient’s] death was caused due to reaction of the said injections, it proves negligence on his part.”

Responding to the homoeopath’s protests that he had previously been acquitted, the NCDRC said “liability for a civil wrong and liability for a criminal offence are different. The objective of criminal law is to punish, the objective of civil law is to compensate, they essentially differ in their context and consequence. The two are not mutually exclusive, but co-extensive.” 

In their judgement, the NCDRC ordered the payment of Rs 10 lakh to the victim’s family “with simple interest at twelve percent per annum from the date of arguments before this Commission from October 2018.” The state commission had earlier ordered that compensation of Rs 3 lakh be paid. 

This is far from the only case where practitioners of alternative and traditional medicine have been booked or otherwise held accountable for practising allopathy irresponsibly. In May, a homoeopath in Vadodara, Gujarat was arrested after a raid on his clinic found stocks of allopathic medicines which he was known to regularly prescribe despite lack of medical qualification.  In Pune in January, a homoeopath was remanded into magisterial custody after a sixteen-year-old girl he had treated died  following his unqualified use of allopathic medicines. And in September 2017, in the Kheda district of Gujarat, a homoeopath was ordered to pay Rs 2 lakh to a woman he treated for psoriasis with intramuscular injections and allopathic medicines, after which her condition deteriorated. 

Indeed, across India, 25 percent of India’s healthcare workforce lack medical qualifications. As many as 2.5 million individuals practising medicine without the proper qualifications, training, or registration. This army of so-called ‘quack doctors’ has previously been proposed to be integrated into the healthcare system to cope with doctor shortages. Other proposals include the training of alternative medicine practitioners such as homoeopaths – an initiative Maharashtra has adopted. While much-criticised, and abused in some instances, it is nonetheless a favourable alternative to allopathic medicines being prescribed by practitioners without even that modicum of training. As shown above, this often leads to avoidable deaths. Vigilance against such medical negligence is imperative for the wellbeing and lives of patients.

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