Barber is a surgeon and water is a life-saving medicine
10 December 2014, Nirapad News : Few days back members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)-3 detected the presence of an unauthorized orthopaedic ‘clinic’ the Agargaon area in Dhaka.They took hold in a residential building and all its doctors and medical technicians were fakes. The man who worked as an orthopaedic surgeon earlier was a barber in a hair salon.
Last Monday, members of the RAB-10 found revealed a ‘pharmaceutical laboratory’ at Kasaitully of old Dhaka, where, according to a report published in a Bangla national daily, ‘life saving’ drugs were being produced. In fact, the drugs that the RAB members recovered were ‘life-threatening’ ones. The owner of the laboratory, reportedly, replaced the content of low-cost injection vials with tap water, erased the original name of the injection and sold it as anti-tetanus drug at high costs. He also followed the similar procedures to market fake versions of some widely used medicines. The magistrate accompanying the RAB-10 team sentenced the producer of the spurious drugs to two years’ imprisonment and sent him to Dhaka central jail. The fake doctors and technicians of the unauthorized orthopaedic hospital were also fined and awarded very limited prison sentences. The detection of fake orthopaedic clinic and drug manufacturing unit again highlights the condition of the country’s health sector.
The RAB in particular has been conducting raids in a number of unauthorized hospitals, clinics and drug and cosmetic manufacturing units, particularly in Dhaka city. But that has not helped much. The soft punishment given to the criminals concerned has not been able to deter others from winding up similar operations or starting new ventures in a clandestine manner. It is suspected that the problems emanating from fake doctors, unauthorized clinics and hospitals and units manufacturing spurious and counterfeit drugs are far more serious than how they are considered by the relevant official circles.
All these illegal operations pose a serious threat to public health. However, the affluent section and the educated middle class usually are not affected. It is the poor and low income people who are the targets of all these deceitful activities, including those taking place in the health sector. Some years back, a good number of children died due to the consumption of spurious paracetamol syrup, produced by a little known pharmaceutical company. The victims’ families were low income ones.
The court has recently passed its verdict on the spurious paracetamol syrup case awarding long-term prison sentences to some of the directors and high officials of the drug manufacturing company concerned. It was a historic judgment in a case that was, in fact, instituted following strong pressure coming from the media in particular. But there are ample reasons to believe that the mushrooming of unauthorized clinics and hospitals, particularly in areas where poor and low-income people live, and spurious drug manufacturing units in the crowded part of Dhaka city and in outside districts is linked to deliberate indulgence, given to by an unscrupulous section of officials in the health directorate and local law enforcing agencies. Though the health directorate and the drug administration do often cite ‘the shortage of manpower and logistics’ as the main reason for not being able to stop irregular practices in the health sector, most experts are not ready to buy such a plea. For instance, the unauthorized orthopaedic clinic unearthed by the RAB members was a legal entity until a few months back. It had a valid licence issued by the government agency concerned. For reasons best known to its owner/s, the licence was not renewed. The question is: How could the health directorate grant licence to a health facility that, in fact, had no qualified doctors, medical equipment and other required facilities? It does not require any elaboration how and why the licence was given. The same practice is being followed in the case of other health facilities that do not fulfil even the basic minimum requirement to be in business. Policymakers do often project the achievements in the health sector. There are of course some remarkable achievements. Otherwise, the average life-expectancy of the population would not have crossed 70-year mark by now. But there are also failures and those need to be admitted frankly and addressed, with all seriousness. Stern actions against fake doctors, clinics and drug manufacturers should get the topmost priority.