Quacks are untrained and unqualiﬁed people who practice medicine illegally. They thrive in remote villages which do not have proper medical facilities and qualiﬁed personnel. They not only prescribe medicine but also behave as experts in different ﬁelds like “specialists”.
Thus there are those who claim to be “specialized” in the treatment of fractures, burn injuries, boils, infections etc. The gullible villagers are taken for a ride by these quacks as they very often receive treatment from them due to a lack of qualiﬁed doctors in the villages. I used to see many complications following treatment by these Quacks. These included badly infected wounds, complicated burn injuries with contractures and deformities, mal-united fractures, unreduced dislocations of joints, complicated cancers and septic abortions were some of them. They even used to treat victims of venomous snakebite, with disastrous consequences for the patients. Treating these complications was not an easy task.
Some complications seen in patients following treatment by Quacks
From the album of Gamini Goonetilleke
Management of Fractures in the village
Horuwila is a village in the Anuradhapura District. That village was made famous by a “physician” who specialized in the treatment of fractures and dislocations according to so called traditions coming down from generation to generation. He was a respected personality in this village. The people and especially the politicians of the area had a high regard for him. He had a ﬂourishing practice, with people coming from all over the country for treatment of orthopaedic problems.
I was keen to visit his “hospital” as most of the patients treated by me for fractures at the Polonnaruwa hospital were later abandoning the treatment given by me after visiting this “physician”. I was keen to see what was going on in this “hospital”.
I went there one day, with my camera. I did not want to divulge my identity for I did not know what his reaction would be. When questioned by him, I said that I was a “journalist” who wanted to visit him with the idea of giving him more publicity. He gave me free access to the entire area. There were areas where oils and “pattus” (a paste made out of medicinal herbs) were made, an area for the dispensing of oils, storage areas for herbs and so on.
In his garden there was an area which attracted my attention. There was a huge heap of “plaster of Paris casts” which had been applied on patients with fractures by orthopaedic surgeons all over the country, only to be removed by him and exhibited to the public who visited him. There was also a clinic area and a ward for indoor patients. Treatment was given in the main hall which included manipulation of fractures and dislocations without anaesthesia, followed by the application of oils, “pattus” and splints. The fee was only twenty rupees (Rs 20/=) and it was given to him by the patient with a sheaf of betel leaves. There was a huge clientele for this type of native treatment. The famous village “physician” was giving our Orthopaedic Surgeons a good run for their money.
Many patients with complications resulting from the treatment of various diseases and injury were admitted to my ward at the Base Hospital Polonnaruwa. I collected and analysed the data of such problems caused by “Quacks”. This was presented in the form of a scientific paper at the Annual Academic Sessions of the Sri Lanka Medical Association in 1987 and at the Meeting of The College of Surgeons in 1988. The proceedings were reported in the newspaper shown below.
However it is sad but true to say that the Quacks in Sri Lanka will remain and remain for ever with increase in numbers each year. The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) cannot act and recommend punishment for Quacks as they are not registered by the SLMC. According to the regulations the SLMC can act only on those who are registered with that Medical Body. This is a matter for the Sri Lanka Police. However they too turn a blind eye towards this problem and the Quacks.
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Dear Reader, You might be interested to read the next story were I share about the difficulties we faced in rural area and how we took precautions and saved life with limited resources we were provided : ‘SAVING LIVES IN A SETTING WITH LIMITED RESOURCES’