“I don’t have a degree but I have experience,” is what quack Zulekha Sheikh reportedly said after she was arrested in February, last year.

Zulekha Sheikh, who claimed to be a doctor, had been running a 13-bed Warsi Hospital in Mumbra for years before it was shut down this June. The hospital was once shut down five years back for illegal abortions but it was reopened recently when Sheikh said she hired a new qualified doctor to run it.

Warsi was reportedly run as a family business. Initial reports indicated, Zulekha portrayed the resident doctor, her matriculate passed daughter played nurse and 11th standard student son playing the ward boy apparently without fear of the law.

It was only a couple of month ago, when a healthy 22-year-old Hina Sayed who delivered a healthy baby in Warsi hospital died of profuse bleeding allegedly owing to medical negligence, that the issue came to light. Hina took her last breath while being shifted to another hospital and declared dead on arrival. Zulekha was arrested after the police were called in.

Despite reports of uneducated ‘doctors,’ under-qualified ‘nurses’ and junior college student ‘ward-boys’ running a medical show undeterred for years, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) Executive Health Officer rather oddly suggests there are only 43 fake doctors in Mumbai.

It was following an RTI activist’squery to the BMC asking for the number of quacks in the city identified by the civic health department that the corporation provided the reply that seemed preposterous on the face of it. Although there are more than a dozen ‘qualified’ doctors in a single slum, the civic body’s assertion of there being 43 such doctors in the entire city comes as a shocker.

Although the RTI query was filed in April 2011, the reply came only in January 2012 i.e. a good eight months for the BMC to collate the figure. According to the statistics with the BMC, the total number of doctors in the city range from 35,000 and 40,000 and of these, barely 43 are quacks.

Delhi with a population of around 1.38 crore has an estimated number of 40,000 quacks and in comparison, Mumbai with a population of 1.24 crore, has barely 43 quacks. There evidently seems to be something amiss here, doesn’t it?

Zulekha Sheikh went on with her practice for years after being arrested. The so-called-doctor who claimed she learned to be a doctor by observing other doctors’ work went on with her work and risking other people’s life for years on end.

A string of allegations emerged following Hina’s death. In one, an old man who came to Warsi hospital complaining of a stomach ache, reportedly due to appendicitis, allegedly died because the ward boy pressed his appendix by mistake which went on to burst thereby killing him.

In another case, a new-born baby was allegedly dropped on the floor by the hospital staff causing permanent brain damage while a pregnant woman’s abortion reportedly remained incomplete despite a Medical Termination of Pregnancy procedure undertaken at the Hospital.

Incidentally, barely five months after BMC released its report stating there were only 43 quacks in the city, the District Health Officer was ‘alarmed’ by the number of fake doctors in the district and started conducted raids at many places.

In May last, eight bogus doctors were arrested in Nalasopara in a drive conducted by Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC). It has been reported that there are around 300 bogus doctors in Vasai Virar region – which has a population far lesser than Mumbai.

Three years back, a ‘fake’ doctor was arrested from Bombay Hospital after, equipped with fake certificates, he ‘treated’ patient for seven years. It may be recalled that scientist Munir Khan too was in the news for practicing and selling his ‘wonder drug’ for years in Mumbai before being arrested in 2010.

His wonder drug, he claimed cured every disease including cancer, turned out to be nothing but a few herbs mixed in honey.  What is ironical is, before starting his own ‘ayurvedic research’ Khan used to work as a compounder for an ayurvedic doctor, who years later went on to claim the ‘wonder drug’ was his creation and Munir stole it from him.

In 2009, four fake doctors were arrested from Andheri for selling ‘a white powder’ which, they claimed, cured skin diseases.

While there had been reports across the nation of an Ayurvedic doctor killing patients by performing surgeries or another treating a patient for ‘acidity’ when the patient was having chest pain owing to heart blockage, Maharashtra even planned a move that would allow ayurvedic, unani and homeopathic doctors to prescribe allopathic medicines legally.Thankfully, the move was opposed by the Indian Medical Association that moved court against this decision.

On this decision, IMA State secretary Dr Jayesh Lele reportedly said, “This step of the state government shows it is bypassing not only the Medical Council of India, but also the decision of the court (In 1996, the HC had said that doctors registered with the Maharashtra Council of Homoeopathy will practise only homoeopathy and not any other stream of medicine). If the government is serious about providing better healthcare, it would have focused on improving amenities in rural areas and giving better working conditions to doctors. This ‘crosspathy’ will only serve to provide a platform for quacks.”

Already there are ayurvedic, homeopathic and unani doctors who practice and prescribe allopathic medication illegally due to various reasons varying from corruption among officials, ignorance among people and failure to adhere by norms. The state’s plan to allow them practice allopathy legally is perceived as the perfect recipe for disaster.

“This lenient attitude of the state towards quacks or doctors of one stream prescribing medicine from other streams has what led Munir Khan to loot people of lakhs of rupees openly and to top it advertise about it on media channel. This so-called doctor who used to sell a 100 ml bottle of his wonder potion for Rs 15,000 duped hundreds of unsuspecting patients of lakhs of rupees before the law caught up with him,” feels a medical practitioner on grounds of anonymity.

The state and the city’s civic body needs to urgently relook at rectifying the anomalies that risk thwarting public health instead of sweeping it below the carpet by arbitrary regularisation.

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