There are significant and long-standing problems with quack doctors, unqualified hakeems and other unqualified practitioners in Punjab and it is costing lives. The problem is compounded by the collusion of appropriately qualified men and women who really are doctors, but work hand in glove with dubious practitioners of all sorts. The problem is particularly acute with pregnant women who make the choice not to use the maternity services that are available and patronise the quacks instead, this being particularly true in remote rural areas. Up to 40 per cent of women are estimated to make that choice though there are no official figures.
This is not to say that all traditional birth attendants, properly trained and qualified, are unworthy of patronage and many do sterling work to the good of many. Surgical malpractice is common with mothers in delivery, with the possible consequence of damage to the bladder and intestine with some women never able to conceive again such is the severity. Some die if they are not brought to proper hospitals.
The practice is embedded and decades old, institutionalised and with the law-enforcement agencies, fake practitioners and some but not all of those that are genuine all working together to make a profit at the same time as exploiting and endangering often the poorest and most vulnerable of women. Even where the Punjab Healthcare Commission has been able to close down a fake facility they have sometimes been able to reopen. This is another of those invisible health crises that happen under our noses and almost never make the headlines. A range of agencies and individuals work together in what they know is an illegal enterprise and can do so with impunity, flouting the law time after time. One might wonder if the same would be true were it men that were dying in numbers. We suspect not.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2018.
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