Dr. Eze Eze is the Zonal Chairman of Discipline Medical Ethics and Quackery of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Abia State. He spoke with EMMANUEL IFEANYI on quackery in the medical sector of the state, the reason for its alarming increase, attempts by NMA to check it, and the role of government in offering proper medical care among other issues. Excerpts
Why is quackery on the increase in the medical field here in Abia State given the number of unfortunate mishaps that we hear daily?
It has been a very long term problem. One, it is the product of illiteracy. The people here go to where it will be cheaper for them without knowing that there is a need to see professional doctor before treatment. Some don’t know about sterilising instruments used for treatment.
They don’t know that when these instruments are not sterilised, the patient who came to the hospital with ordinary illness can go home with a lot of problems like hepatitis, HIV and other infections.
Why is the situation worst in Aba and the reason for the ongoing campaign against it?
For a very long time in the state, Aba has become a free for all places for anybody to come and practice. Now the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Abia State has decided to save lives by clamping down on such places.
A lot of maternities here deliver babies and perform surgeries and when there’s a problem that requires oxygen they cannot afford it and the person will die. Those who have tooth problems here will go to quacks to remove their teeth and in the process of doing so, they’ll die instantly while others have sustained infections that led to their deaths two to three weeks later. For example, someone opened a half a room dental clinic at a motor park here in Aba.
They go to government dental centres and refer patients from there and they pay commissions to people in the government dental clinic to refer patients to them. Anybody that’s coming there is already bought in advance. So, when those on the ground send patients to those quacks they give them money in return. This is the business going on in this city with people’s lives at stake.
It becomes a market. Someone went in front of a government dental centre and opened a dental clinic which is against the law. You don’t open a private hospital in front of a government hospital. There is a measurement yard that we give and those things are not obeyed here.
Henceforth, we have decided that enough is enough.
What has the government done so far about it?
Of a truth, the government waits for doctors to initiate this action because majority of those in government don’t even understand who is a quack. I’ve seen a commissioner who was treated by a dental quack. The dental quack chewed gum and placed it on the commissioner’s teeth in the name of doing feelings. He saw him doing that and he thought it was normal.
He was later treated properly. So, what I’m saying in essence is that even some people in the government do not understand what is going on, so it is the doctors that should take action. There are some government officials who are incompetent encouraging this type of quackery here as well. In the case of opening a dental clinic in the front of government’s dental centre, they said it was reported several times but there was no proper authority to handle and take over the matter. But I realised that it is the duty of the doctors here to save people’s lives and prove that they’re in charge of the health sector.
Have the NMA properly identified all these quacks and the locations of their hospitals?
That process is ongoing for the last three weeks, since I’ve been appointed because I’ve not been based in Nigeria for a long time. Although when I was here initially as at 1999 I started looking into this. I later travelled and returned a few years ago. So, as of today, the NMA has identified some of them.
The situation now is that it is extremely difficult to fish out all of them because these quacks are grooming other quacks and they’re taking over everywhere killing people in the name of treating them. They employ other quacks and groom their relatives to keep expanding.
So how do you intend to clamp down on them given the attendant difficulties listed?
What we’re doing now is that when we get any of them, we arrest and hand them over to the police for proper prosecution. They must tell us their details and how they got registered as doctors and the limits of their practice. By law, nobody should open a hospital without a certified doctor who took an oath of office and who will be liable to man the place.
Now, the problem is that when these quacks kill somebody, they’ll run away and there’s no means of tracing or fighting them because they cannot be linked to anything concerning medical. We cannot fight such people because they’re not our members. You see some of them having links with some people in higher places to cover them up knowing full well that they must get into trouble one day as a result of their quackery. We are about to end all those nonsense.
Could this be the reason we have an increase in mortality rate now as many have been saying?
Of a truth, nobody has the record but I must tell you that if it’s properly looked into, we may end up weeping at the rate because nothing is documented here. Their activities are dangerous and they must be stopped. Their contributions to the death rate are very high in my own view because I’ve gotten many reports.
We have a case of a quack referring someone to one of the best hospitals here after he must have wasted his fake experimental time on the patient and only decided to refer the patient to a real hospital when it was obvious that the patient is close to the grave. The patient who was a woman died only because she came to remove a tooth, but the quack dentist removed the wrong tooth and cause serious problems for the woman, who later died.
There is another case about a quack at Saint Michael’s Road who removed a woman’s teeth that led to her death. There are other cases of these quacks running away when they discovered they’ve killed somebody. It’s very unfortunate that in Africa, especially here that records are not taken on health statistics. When anybody dies, the cause of the person’s death needs to be registered but it is not done here. This is so that we can know the records, but the statistics are not registered here despite it going on consistently.
There is a gap between the NMA and Aba residents, what is NMA doing to bridge it?
To be very fair to NMA, I’m the first chairman of quackery in the state that’s officially created together with disciplinary and ethics. So, as people grow, civilisation improves and that’s why we want to get the media involved. I want to tell you now that the car is now parked at the owners’ risk. Soon if you enter any hospital in Aba henceforth check the notification area there must be our phone number for patients to call to know if the so-called hospital is owned by a certified medical doctor who is supposed to handle their cases.
So, when the patients call we can tell them if the doctor is a registered doctor or not. Again, our people must stop looking up the internet addresses because these quacks go on the internet and advertise them as duly approved medical centres to deceive unsuspecting members of the public who are in dire need of serious medical services.
When people get there, a treatment that can be worth N5, 000, they’ll do it for N800 and the patients will feel happy not knowing they’ve entered serious trouble. Whenever the cost is low from these quacks you see people rushing to that place.
People don’t realise that what matters is the expertise and grounded knowledge of the doctors handling your health problems who are under oath and have what it takes to refer someone to a better place with due recommendation.
Quacks may not do that because when they do that, they’ll expose their identities and expose what they’ve been hiding. We’ll continue to clamp down on these people and henceforth we’ll keep educating our people about what’s happening here and how they must safeguard themselves.