Killer Doctors Without Borders

While marking 51 years of its existence, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) on Tuesday mentioned the arrest of more than 30 quacks and those practising medicine illegally in the country as one of its achievements. The registrar of MDCN, Dr Abdulmunin Ibrahim, said the council also sanctioned 122 practitioners after investigating 1, 550 complaints. The number of training institutions accredited by the council, he noted, has increased from one to 31 within the last 50 years.

There is no denying the impact of MDCN on the country’s healthcare system, despite the council’s several setbacks. Indeed, the nation is grateful to each of its 70, 000 members. What would we have been without our trained doctors?

As MDCN celebrates its 51st birth anniversary, it should be reminded to do more in curtailing the activities of quacks that have been soiling the deserved reputation of its members and other medical people. The council itself knows that the number of these killers without borders is not just 30; there may be 3, 000 of them that have yet to be arrested. Many Nigerians have died in the hands of these quacks, and yet many more are patronising them. Patients have to be told the distinguishing characteristics of a genuine medical person, so they can identify the quacks early and flee from them.

However, even non-quacks have been found guilty of wrong diagnoses, wrong drug prescriptions and wrong treatments. Those privileged to travel abroad to seek treatment for their ailments have found that they were being killed, inadvertently, by their doctors in Nigeria. Sometimes, the ailment turned out to be the drugs prescribed by qualified doctors in Nigerian hospitals. The late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, was a notable victim that never survived wrong diagnosis.

Admittedly, lack of medical facilities is at the root of certain misdiagnoses. Nigerian hospitals have transmuted from “mere consulting clinics” to glorified mortuaries. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and lab scientists are often on strike. Fake drugs are visible even in tertiary health institutions.

But those cannot be said to be the reasons for the activities of quack doctors. These are people who never attended any medical school. Some are dropouts. Others are nurses claiming to be doctors or chemistry teachers claiming to be lab scientists. Ordinary butchers and drug sellers (“chemists”) have been seen with surgical blades!

The quacks are distinguishable from herbal healers and practitioners of alternative medicine. Herbal healing and alternative medicine are now being recognised by orthodox doctors. One becomes a quack, however, if one claims to be a doctor or performs functions that only a qualified doctor is authorised to do.

The chairman of the MDCN’s governing board, Professor Jonathan Azubuike, has requested the federal government to stop interfering in the council’s functions. That is a legitimate demand that should be taken seriously from now on, if quacks are to be eliminated.

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