Why Pakistan has so many quacks

Mar 28, 2019

MOHAMMAD ZAHID sat sullenly in the office where minutes earlier he had been doling out advice, pills and injections to a long line of patients. His customers had melted away at the sudden arrival of Saeed Asghar and his police escort. Dr Asghar, deputy director of the Anti-Quackery Department of the Pakistani province of Punjab, spends his days hunting for people practising medicine without the proper qualifications. Mr Zahid briefly tried to claim he was a proper doctor, before admitting he was not when his paperwork was checked. In fact, he had been trained only to help a pharmacist dispense medicine. His set of rooms in the backstreets of Rawalpindi were full of medicines he was not qualified to prescribe and syringes he was not trained to use, said Dr Asghar. “I haven’t been doing this for long,” Mr Zahid said, by way of an excuse. Beneath his desk was a plastic tub stuffed with banknotes.

A health-care census earlier this decade found Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province with 110m inhabitants, had between 70,000 and 80,000 totally unqualified practitioners. Many more, like Mr Zahid, had a medical qualification of some sort, but were doing work that far exceeded their training. Pharmacists, homeopaths and herbalists often pose as GPs.

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