An epidemic of self-styled "volunteer doctors" is proving to be a health hazard in the devastated villages and camps for tsunami survivors in the southern Indian Tamil Nadu state, it was reported yesterday. The "volunteer doctors," many of whom cannot tell a muscle from a vein, have been moving around administering cocktails of drugs and intra-venous fluid to survivors, the Indian Express newspaper reported.
In a camp in the temple town of Nagore, government doctors had to work hard to save a man who took a fistful of antibiotics someone gave him for an ear infection. He took them all at the same time hoping to get cured faster.
Most of the fisherfolk from the coastal villages are illiterate, which makes them more vulnerable, an official of Tamil Nadu's worst-hit Nagapattinam district said. The drugs are being given free with no medical diagnosis, supervision, dosage instruction or follow-up, he said.
In the village of Thirutere, a team of government doctors found two men with an IV fluid pouch trying to force a needle into the arm of a man who had collapsed on the road. Neither of them had any medical training.
In Akkaraipettai village, another team of doctors found a couple feeding their two-year-old child an unidentified capsule. They said someone had told them it would prevent any disease. They were halving a white tablet which they said was too large for the child. All the drugs were supplied free.
Shantaseela Nayar, secretary of Tamil Nadu's rural development department, acknowledged that the quacks posed a health threat, especially in remote coastal villages which were difficult to monitor. "They hand out everything from paracetamol, to anti-malaria and anti-tuberculosis drugs to antibiotics and treat everything from bruises to infections -- or worse."
A senior district official said several nongovernmental organizations were working outside the coordinating loop handing out free medicines.
"We are trying to get all volunteer doctors to register with the district authorities before they go out to the camps and villages," he said.