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    Volume 9 Issue 24| June 11, 2010|

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Criminal Curers

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

A fake doctor recently arrested in the city by RAB.

Last month, while playing on the grounds near his home with some other children early in the morning, eight-year-old Ali (not his real name) was hit by an auto-rickshaw. He was taken with a broken leg to the National Institute of Traumatology Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation (NITOR), more commonly known as Pongu Hospital. There, some men told the boy's father that he could not be treated that early in the day and suggested that he be taken to the nearby Crescent Hospital. The owner of the hospital, Dr. Nuru Nabi, recommended surgery. The asking price of Tk. 15,000 for the procedure, however, was too much for the boy's father, a rickshaw-puller, who could not afford more than Tk. 5,000. He left the hospital, but, seeing his son in severe pain, returned and settled with the doctor on Tk. 8,000. The doctor performed the surgery and plastered the boy's leg. A few hours later, the doctor was arrested on charges of fraud.

Claiming to have a MBBS degree but possessing one only on physiotherapy, Nuru Nabi was not a licensed doctor who could write prescriptions even, let alone operate on patients. A Special Mobile Court sentenced the fake doctor to one year in jail. Less than two weeks later, however, following an appeal to the district judge, Nuru Nabi was freed on bail.

According to Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Executive Magistrate AHM Anwar Pasha, who has lead mobile courts in raids against not only fraud doctors but also groups who trade in adulterated blood, medicine, water and cosmetics, there are scores of such “doctors” in the city.

“When we first began the raids about a year or so ago, there was information on over 100 such fraud doctors,” says Pasha. “As we have begun arresting them, many of them have gone underground and are now practising outside of the capital.”

The most common scenario is this: When all doctors and faith healers in the village or town fail to cure a patient, s/he is brought to Dhaka for diagnosis and treatment. Lost in the confusion of the big, crowded and impersonal city hospitals, many people turn to the helpful Bhai or Apa hovering nearby. This is not the place for this sort of treatment, they say after hearing the patient's symptoms. My relative had the same problem. I took him to the big doctor just across the street. He's very good. At the doctor's, with a “Government Approved” signboard hanging outside and MBBS and other degrees framed on the walls, the agent introduces the patient as his/her relative and asks the doctor to take special care in the case. The doctor for his part puts on a grave expression after hearing the case, saying they have come to him just in time. He advises a number of tests -- blood, urine, ultra sonogram, x-rays for all parts of the body -- and warns that surgery may be required. The tests are done quickly and effortlessly, the plates already prepared, the reports often the same with only the patients' names changed on them. Again, the doctor wears a serious expression as he asks the family, and his own team, to prepare for surgery, without which the patient will not survive. In some cases, a procedure of sorts is actually performed. In others, a minor incision is made and stitched up, making it seem as if a surgery has taken place.

While stories of poor, helpless patients from rural areas being trapped by the scores of fake diagnostic centres, clinics and hospitals strategically located near government hospitals in the city are most common, no one is safe in this city. Last week, RAB raided a posh dentist's office in Gulshan 1. “Dr.” Emran Hossain, an HSC graduate, had for the last two years since his father's death, been carrying on his father's practice, inheriting his patients and introducing himself to them as a specialist. Following months of monitoring, Hossain was caught red-handed writing advice for a patient and charging them an advance fee of Tk. 8,000 for a dental surgery to be carried out later. He was apprehended by RAB and sentenced to six months in jail.

While Hossain “inherited” his father's medical degree, most phoney doctors in the city buy their own. According to RAB Executive Magistrate AHM Anwar Pasha, there are syndicates in India which provide MBBS and AM (Alternative Medicine) degrees for a fee. “A man who used to work at a pharmacy in Jessore and knew the basics about some ailments and medicine, bought such a degree for Tk. 12,000 and opened a fancy chamber in Mirpur. He has been practising for so long that he had almost forgotten his own history.” These degrees can also be bought locally, says Pasha. Equipped with them and assisted by their agents posted in the various public hospitals, the phoney doctors then practise at will, treating patients for everything from headaches to cancer, prescribing medicine at random and performing surgery for conditions as serious as tumours and appendicitis.

Outside of the capital too, the crimes occur unabated and with even fewer consequences. About eight or 10 years ago in Jamalpur, following the death of a patient from excessive bleeding after dental surgery, a case was filed against fake doctor Md. Moktar Hossain, who was a cleaner at a local clinic before turning “doctor”, according to a local source preferring anonymity, was sentenced to jail. Upon appeal, however, he was released and began to practise again. During the term of the last caretaker government, he was again found guilty by a mobile court, fined, and his Rabeya Dental Clinic sealed. Shockingly enough, the “doctor” simply rented a new chamber under the same name and continues to practise.

Genuine doctors are faced with the complications resulting from wrong treatment of the fake healers. “Over 80 percent of the cases we get are results of wrong treatment administered by these so-called doctors,” says a local physician in Jamalpur, preferring not to be named. “Some have ended up with conditions as serious as cancer,” he says. “In most cases, there are severe complications, and -- as in the case which led to the arrest of Md. Moktar Hossain -- even death.”

While many locals can identify the fraud healers, patients who come from the villages cannot. Seeing the fancy signboards outside their chambers, they go to them in hope of being cured. Besides Rabeya Dental Clinic, a number of other dubious clinics, allegedly with fake doctors, are also in operation in the same town, including Bengal Dental Care, Shaheen Dental Care and Dental Care.

For a person to be a certified doctor in Bangladesh, s/he must be registered with the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BM&DC), the regulatory authority which recognises medical and dental qualifications. “Anyone who practises or even claims to be a doctor but is not registered with this body may be fined Tk. 2,000 or sentenced to jail for up to one year according to the Medical and Dental Council Act 1980,” says RAB Executive Magistrate AHM Anwar Pasha.

Registration is the only safeguard against fraud doctors and also the only way for people to determine whether or not a doctor is genuine. “The practice of displaying registration numbers on signboards, letterhead writing pads, seals, etc., should be made mandatory,” says Pasha. “Prospective patients can then check with the BM&DC list to see which doctors are registered.”

Until the process of registering doctors is strictly ensured and stern punishment meted out to the transgressors, fraud doctors will continue their crimes. In addition, others may be encouraged by the lack of serious consequences to commit similar offences. For people who cause deliberate death and suffering, a small fine or even a year in jail is mild punishment. For those who do this in the name of a profession in which one swears to practise medicine ethically, to care for patients and to do no harm, the punishment is hardly enough for the grave crimes they commit.


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