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West Bengal: Mamata govt to use over 2.75 lakh ‘quack’ doctors to fight Covid in rural areas

"It is a huge workforce which we want to rope in because villagers visit them regularly for treatment. The state health department is coming up with a guideline in the form of dos and don'ts for this purpose," a state govt health official was quoted by HT.

The newly elected West Bengal government, under the leadership of third-time Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has decided to use 2,75,000 quack doctors as the first line of defence against the second wave of Covid-19, as per a report in Hindustan Times. As per official stats, the number of cases has risen by 5-8 times in rural regions of Bengal compared to last year’s peak. Reports suggest that the state health department will soon issue a dos and don’ts list for the quacks to handle Covid-19 patients.

Hindustan Times quoted a senior health official of West Bengal, saying, “Even when the state was witnessing the peak of the first wave in October 2020, the cases in rural Bengal were under control. But now, cases have shot up almost 5 – 8 times in the districts with more than 50% rural population.”

During the first surge, West Bengal reported 4,157 cases in a single day on October 22, 2020. During the second wave of Covid-19, the state has already reported over 18,000 cases in a single day. Based on the data of rural districts including Birbhum, Murshidabad, Hooghly and Nadia, the cases on October 22 were 82, 110, 225 and 194, respectively. On the other hand, these regions reported 722, 500, 986 and 869 cases, respectively, noting around 5-8 times more cases.

Quack doctors have ‘helped’ West Bengal during last wave

The official further added that the state had been utilizing ASHA workers to fight against Covid. But now, they are planning to use quack doctors as they are available in almost all villages. “It is a huge workforce which we want to rope in because villagers visit them regularly for treatment. The state health department is coming up with a guideline in the form of dos and don’ts for this purpose,” he added.

If needed, these doctors can be given crash course training by the block and sub-divisional hospitals on handling Covid-19 patients and what steps to take if they come across a critical patient. It has to be noted that this is not the first time West Bengal is using quack doctors to fight Covid-19. During the first wave, the quack doctors reportedly ‘helped’ in keeping the infection at bay.

According to a report published in BBC in July 2020, over 100,000 such doctors helped the West Bengal government control the disease. The report suggested that since 2008, a Kolkata-based organization has been providing training to such ‘doctors’ and now the West Bengal government also provide such training at over 30 centres.

Who are quack doctors?

Often known as informal healthcare providers, quacks are basically those unregistered or unqualified health practitioners who do not have formal training in medicine. While some quacks treat the ailment with the help of home remedies, others use the knowledge they have gained after working with a registered qualified doctor over the years. These are similar to “non-physician clinicians” in Africa.

Covid-19 in West Bengal

The first phase of assembly elections was held on March 27 in the state. At that time, the state was reporting under 1,000 cases per day. However, as time passed by and the state was done with the eight phases of the assembly elections, the state was reporting over 17,000 cases per day.  Based on the latest stats provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, West Bengal has reported 18,102 cases on May 5. There are 1,21,872 active cases in the state. 103 people have lost their lives between May 4 and May 5 due to complications associated with Covid-19.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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