Aisha Yusuf, a resident of Angwar, Kaduna State, lost her sister due to complications during child delivery in a local hospital operated by a quack.
The death, according to Aisha, was devastating to the entire family because she was the breadwinner and responsible for all their needs.
The ‘doctor’ who operated the hospital vanished as soon as family members threatened to report him to the police.
The experience of the Yusufs changed their perception towards the medical profession.
“Since my sister’s death, we have decided as a family never to visit any hospital again for delivery because they will only kill you,” Aisha said.
Like Aisha, many other women in Nigeria now patronize traditional birth attendants (TBAs) due to lack of faith or trust in medical doctors, which has overwhelmed such attendants.
One of the TBAs, Mama Femi, now operates a full-fledged hospital in Maraba, a suburb of Abuja, where all kinds of illnesses are treated. According to her, women who come to her place feel at home and never experience complications.
This accounts for why Mama Yara, a Kaduna-based TBA, said she encouraged women to stop going to hospitals to give birth, and her reason is simple: “Doctors are no longer trustworthy; they are not knowledgeable and most of them are inexperienced and not qualified.”
She attributed the growing rate of infertility among married women to harm done to them by fake ‘doctors.’
As the quacks increase their scope of influence, Nigerians are daily being discouraged from patronizing certified medical centers and hospitals. This is not only because of the cost of treatment, but as a result of the deadly practices of quacks.
The fraudulent doctor situation is especially dangerous for a country like Nigeria due to its poor doctor-to-patient ratio, according to Charles Ameh, a public affairs analyst.
According to the World Health Organization, the ratio of doctors to patients in Nigeria is 1 to 3500, a condition described as critical and currently made worse by the citizenry’s growing distrust of medical practitioners.
The Bureau of Statistics and the federal Ministry of Health, however, have no records or data on the operations of quacks in the country or the number of quacks operating illegal hospitals.
The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) noted that “there is no documented evidence as to the estimate of quacks as at today, but statistical data collection is ongoing. The sample size for now is small and the survey is still ongoing. There are no specific areas susceptible to quacks, as they operate both in rural and urban area alike. But by an unscientific assessment, they are more likely to be found in urban areas where they cannot be easily identified and people have money to pay.”
Furthermore, the government does not know how much money is wasted each year on imposter doctors’ salaries and the damage they inflict on their victims. Apart from the few identified quacks drawing salaries and allowances from government institutions and hospitals where there work, it is difficult to conclusively state the costs and implications of quackery on the government and people of Nigeria.
“We have not been able to ascertain costs associated with the practice of quacks in the country mainly because there is no database where their operations are documented,” Dr. Henry Okwuokenye, head of the inspectorate unit at the MDCN, said in an interview.
Dr. Joseph Ojobi, a consultant physician with the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, Benue State, said quantifying the cost of quackery in the country would be very difficult.
“It is difficult to quantify or put a cost to one’s life. How can you calculate the emotional feelings that people related to victims suffer or how much is a life worth?” he said.
Dr. Sylvanus Okpe, an associate professor with the Jos University Teaching Hospital, said that calculating the costs of the activities of quacks could come in different forms.
“You have to first of all look at the amount the victims spend on obtaining the services or treatment from the quacks. If the treatment leads to permanent damages, how much will you say that amounts to? And if the person dies, how much will you put the value for that person’s life?”
Dr. Okpe added that it would be difficult to accurately ascertain the costs burdened on the families of quacks’ victims.
“Assuming the victim is the breadwinner, how will you know the cost of the sufferings that those depending on him will incur?” he said.
While the financial cost associated with medical quackery is difficult to determine, the social cost is clear, as the number of lives lost across Nigeria due to medical malpractice is dangerously high.
If you believe you know of an unlicensed or quack doctor operating in Nigeria you can report your concern to the MDCN here. If you want to know whether your healthcare provider is registered you can search for them in the ‘Dodgy Doctor’ tool on the SaharaHealth website. If you are a medical professional, and know you should be on the MDCN registry but have not found your name, you can report your concern to them here: [email protected] or [email protected]