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Quack takes gas victims for a cruel ride

Central Chronicle, February 26, 2000 (Saturday)

BHOPAL: A quack of dubious qualifications and dangerous treatment who promised miracle cure for asthama, has vanished after collecting lakhs of rupees as fee from gullible patients in Bhopal. His visits to the State capital stopped abruptly May last after a period stretching over two and a half years, presumably after his patients became restive at not finding the promised relief from Asthama despite forking out large sums of money. Last heard, he was operating in Indore.

The charlatan, Anokh Singh, used to visit Bhopal with his retinue of assistants first Monday every month. His agent in Bhopal said he is a Sikh from Delhi. Anokh Singh's patients mostly comprised Bhopal Gas Disaster victims, a group with a very high incidence of respiratory ailments due to exposure to highly toxic MIC fumes in the gas leak of 1984.

One of these victims, Syed Mohammed Yusuf, a middle-aged auto-driver living in Bagh Munshi Hussain Khan slums of the walled city, gave a chilling account of of his life-threatening line of treatment. First, the skin on asthama patient's solar plexus (sternum) was pierced and a stitch of metal wire made by one of his assistants.

Then, the quack would step in, driving a veterinary injection needle right up the spine in the lower back, claiming it was a lumbar puncture to release the patient's depressed nerves, the root-cause of his asthama. Finally, the patient was administered electric shocks. Anokh Singh's assistants would clamp crocodile clips on the patient's earlobes, wrists and the metal wire stitch on sternum before the charge was transmitted.

And all this was carried out not in the fumigated, microbe-free environs of an operation theatre but behind a curtain-screen in a public hall he used to rent on Idgah Hills.

Apart from the obvious threat to to life during the `treatment' process, the entire exercise also posed a possibility of various infections and patients contracting diseases transmitted through blood. The crocodile clips often broke skin and blood oozed out. Since no sterilization was employed and the same set of clips was used on scores of asthama patients, transmission of diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis B could not be ruled out. "It is a miracle that nobody died during the `syringe and shock' treatment. If any of the asthama patients who underwent the procedure have contracted HIV or Hepatitis, we shall never know," says Satinath Sarangi, who runs a successful alternative therapy centre for gas victims.

Anokh Singh is said to have made between Rs. 20-25 lakh in Bhopal. The quack charged Rs. 750 for the `surgical procedure' and electric shocks on the first visit by a patient and Rs. 250 on subsequent visits for more shocks.

The money was deposited with Shree Medical Store near Pari Park on Idgah Hills and receipts issued for treatment. This was admitted by the properitor of the medical store himself. According to him, the quack is now available at Sheikh Hatim Nursing Home in Indore every first Sunday and Monday of a month.

Despite the steep charge, the word on Anokh Singh's treatment spread far and wide. Yusuf says that people from rural areas adjoining Bhopal used to camp in Bhopal for days to be treated by him. The queue every first Monday of the month used to have at least 100 asthama patients seeking his treatment.

The poor health infrastructure for gas victims is partly to blame for the success of such quacks in conning them. The patients, mostly belonging to low income groups, are lured by the promise of a quick-fix cure.

The Secretary, Gas Relief and Rehabilitation, DS Mishra said their strategy of door-to-door treatment campaign for gas victims was proving successful. However, he admitted, his department does not have any awareness campaign to counter the menace of such quacks.

Surprisingly, the Government does not have a mechanism to monitor the activities of dubious doctors. "We investigate through a team if a complaint is made. If anything suspicious is found, police register an FIR," said Dr. PK Bajaj, Director, Health and Family Welfare. He said there was an urgent need for stringent and comprehensive laws to deal with the ever-rising menace of quacks.

Ambreesh

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