Quacks with advertising budgets

Published: August 5, 2010
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Patients who cannot afford expensive treatment often go to quacks who promise one-stop cures to all diseases

Here is a shout out to cable viewers in Rawalpindi – everybody who knows who Dr. Adnan Aziz is, say ‘I’.

He claims to be the family doctor for the wazir-e-azam of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. (Don’t ask how he can remain the family doctor of the PM for the last three years when AJK has seen quite a few changes on the ministerial throne.)

In fact don’t ask anything, just marvel at the amazing messiahlike powers the good doctor possesses. He can cure anything from kidney stones to infertility. And not just that! He will do it all in the environment of a discotheque. (I haven’t been to his blessed clinic but that’s what I am guessing from the disco music that plays non-stop while patients testify to bladder stones turning to dust in no time and with no pain during his advertisement.)

And then there is the amazing Mrs. Asif Ali with great mystical powers.

Don’t get her wrong, she doesn’t claim that herself – she’s too modest of course!

Tell me dear reader, who, but a great mystic would confidently claim to cure breast cancer completely without surgery? And not just breast cancer, Mrs. Asif Ali can cure women of all diseases and any sorts of malignant cysts.

Why then, is she operating out of a shady little clinic in Pindi, you ask?

I don’t really know, but I am guessing, she doesn’t want experts from the world over descending upon her and stealing her secret formula.

Apart from the fact that they are both unbelievable messiahs with magical powers, what else do Dr. Adnan Aziz and Mrs. Asif Ali have in common?

Their enormous advertising budgets, of course!

Every 5 to 10 minutes, on the five cable movie channels in Rawalpindi, their ads run simultaneously.

Actually, you don’t even need to watch cable to find marvels like these.

Open any mid-weekly or Sunday magazines published with any Urdu paper and you will find so many medical geniuses that it would be hard to make a choice.

They can cure diabetes, they can cure hypertension.

They can make you slimmer, they can make you fairer and they can even make you younger.

If you are having trouble conceiving – have no fear. These advertisements tell you, there are now Amreekan experts in Pakistan specializing in (and I quote) “All types of men’s power and all kinds of women’s needs.” Best of all, these people actually let you choose your child’s gender. After all they tell me ‘khandan ka waris lazmi hai!’

Advertising laws all over the world, ban the advertisement of medicines and (shady) medical facilities. But what are a few laws, when these people are spreading health (and probably a healthy dose of Hepatitis and other viruses as well).

In our lawless land a few advertising laws should be the least of our concern.

So what if a few of the regular awam fall pray to these advertisements and end up risking their lives. There are too many of these masses anyway.

Afterall, PEMRA has bigger fish to fry, bigger groups to handle and king makers to break.

The Parliament has done its job by passing a bill banning the homeopaths from calling themselves doctors – but it isn’t really the Parliament’s job to implement the orders.

The authorities are too busy (mis)handling disasters.

In a society like ours, where the old wives still believe, that modern medical procedures somehow, create more diseases than they cure; the lure of treatment ‘without surgery’ can be enormous. A vast majority still depends upon hakeems and totkas and sees hospitals as money sucking operations. Add that to the selective perception and the extraordinary sense of denial our people possess, and you can sense the enormous health risks these seemingly funny advertisements pose.

But then again, we are not just a country with a low literacy rate; we are also one with unusual priorities.

So, every year while the defense budget goes up and authorities’ allowances rise to unbelievable scales, the health budgets take a cut. If some aid does arrive like it has with Kerry-Lugar Bill – we are more concerned with the fact that monitoring agencies would spell an intervention in our ‘domestic’ affairs.

When the government has failed to build up even a shadow of a proper health system, such medical practitioners and theirs ads hardly create a ripple in the grand scale of things. Why then should a few unethical, illegal advertisements be of any concern?

Realistically, people should know better. If a few cancer patients choose to believe some crazy advertisement, get treated by these quacks, and allow their disease to progress a stage or two, it really is a case of pure folly.

sadaf.khan

Sadaf Khan

A broadcast journalist based in Islamabad who was formerly associated with Geo News and Dunya News. She blogs at ibteda.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.