Bengal to draft quack doctors in fight against COVID-19

Patients in rural, peri-urban areas often depend on quack doctors for initial medical needs

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Wednesday 05 May 2021
Drugs approved for diverse indications are currently in clinical trials. Source: Pixabay

West Bengal will issue an advisory Thursday (May 5) to include quack doctors in its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), said a senior official of the state government. 

Mamata Banerjee, immediately after taking oath as the first women chief minister of the country serving three consecutive terms, swung into action to douse the pandemic fire. In an hour-long meeting with health officials she asked for quacks to be drafted into the fight.

“Yes, (the directive) will come tomorrow,” Health Secretary Narayan Swaroop Nigam confirmed to journalist May 4.

Banerjee also announced a string of measures to discourage people from venturing out, including:

  • Suspending local trains
  • Reducing other public transport
  • Capping market operations to five hours a day

She stressed on enhanced vaccination and said she has already placed with the Union government a demand for more shots.

“These were necessary. We will discuss tomorrow if more measures are required; we have to break the chain of the viral affliction to contain the pandemic spread in the state,” said Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, empanelled on the state’s COVID-19 expert committee.

Quacks do not have medical degrees but practice medicine, predominantly in peri-urban and rural areas, from their practical experience. There are about 100,000 of them in the state and they often form the backbone of treatment in areas with hardly any qualified doctors.

Banerjee said at a meeting of senior state- and district-level officers:

Prepare a list of quacks at block level, train and tag them with health workers to help in surveillance so that the COVID-19 treatment (of patients) can start early; particularly in remote rural areas where proper doctors are not readily available.

“It’s a welcome decision. In any way people go to these people in remote areas. If they can be properly trained then the Covid surveillance, referral and status of early treatment will improve,” said a senior expert associated with a frontline international agency working on public health. The expert cited the example of Asha workers being given orientation.

“The virus seems to be spreading in distant districts and remote areas this time much more than the first wave. Birbhum and Murshidabad are recording over 600 patients a day; the actual number may be more,” a state official said.

“Once a formal order is issued, we will start training the quacks on various aspects of the pandemic so that they can identify early symptoms, refer patients for testing and facilitate starting treatment the soonest,” said Dr Partha Pradhan, principal of Bankura Sammilani College, who was present in Banerjee’s meeting.

“Considering COVID-19 has reached almost every nook and cranny of the state, including remote areas, it’s a practical decision. The state is short on doctors and remote areas often lack them. The decision will help in surveillance and containment,” said Arunabha Majumdar, former director-head at All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health.

He favoured starting treatment in suspected patients in remote areas, with scarce testing infrastructure, according to a standardized protocol.

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