PESHAWAR: For just a mere Rs20, Ramazan can help cure you of your ills — from simple things like constipation to complicated matters such as impotence.
If you travel by public transport in Peshawar, you are probably familiar with Ramazan, or others like him who sell you their small bottle of magic ‘medicine’.
You would often find them jumping on a bus, making their way to the head of the bus before taking out their wares and extolling their virtues.
“These are the proven medicines which can cure even severe constipation, acidity, skin rashes,” Ramazan offers, rattling off a list of diseases from memory as he holds aloft that small vial.
“These may be tiny bottles but, unlike the modern medicines, the drops it contains can sharpen your eye-sight and clean the ears, nostrils and teeth,” he advertises, holding up a fistful of plastic bottles in his left hand.
Equipped with great marketing skills, these quacks usually stand at the bus stop and force their way onto passenger buses.
Apart from verbally extolling the benefits of their mysterious wares, they also distribute pamphlets providing the full list of illness they can tackle and instructions for dosage.
“The medicines and tonics we have made are good for humans because they are extracted from natural herbs,” Ramazan claimed, as he cast a shadow on modern medicine for being chemical compounds which he claimed do more harm than good.
“I have been selling this medicine for years but have yet to receive any complaint, which shows that the public is confident in these indigenous formulas,” Ramazan claims as he tries to hawk his small plastic vial.
After a few sales, the flamboyant quack distributes visiting cards of his Dawakhana (clinic) — the card claims is located in the Baghdada area of Mardan — in the hands of passengers who half-listened to his prepared speech and assure them that their formula has been worked out after years of hard work.
As the bus stops at a stop, he gets off in search of another bus to hawk his medicine on.
The business of such ‘hakims’ appears to be flourishing, probably because there is no check on them.
Apart from the brute street sales — rather bus sales in this regard — the so-called hakim also plasters the city’s walls with posters advertising how the medicine has been prepared using natural extracts but never mention whether these medicines have passed a quality test or if they are approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP). Adverts also blare on radio channels extolling the potency of the medicines in curing things like impotency.
Their widely distributed pamphlets also contain different names such as Sehat Naama and other attractive titles with wild claims.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had taken notice of such quacks and had directed the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) health care commission to submit a report on it.
While the ingredients may be advertised as natural and enjoy historical acceptance, but medical practitioners say such ‘medicines’ do not meet the universal standards and could even be hazardous.
“It is one of the reasons behind a high number of kidney diseases amongst patients in K-P,” said Dr Rahmat Shah, a senior pharmacist.
He added that all sorts of medicines were easily available in the market.
“These concoctions are advertised as stimulants and libido enhancers, and it is the basic driver of their sales. However, they also increase the risk of contracting a number of diseases, particularly of the kidney,” he said.
Dr Shah added that after a patient discovers that the medicine did not do much for them and that their health has in fact worsened, they visit hospitals.
“Here (in K-P) everything is available without any restrictions and regulations,” the pharmacist lamented, adding that since there is no information available about the chemical composition of such concoctions, it was difficult to determine their ingredients and the effect they can have.
“They also use a single drug to treat a number of illnesses,” he said, adding, “they [quacks] are playing with human health.”
Following the directive from the CJP, the K-P Health Care Commission (K-PHCC), has become more active and say they are working on registering all hakims in the province.
“It is not just the duty of the KPHCC but every department, including the drug inspectors and the police to stop them [quacks],” KPHCC officials disclosed to The Express Tribune.
The commission is working on collecting data of all the health centres in K-P which was not available previously.
“We do not have the resources [to register all the hakims],” say K-P healthcare commission officials.
“We have only nine inspectors for 14 districts of the province. For Nowshera and Mardan, the largest districts of the province, we have only one inspector.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2018.