Anas Aremeyaw Anas (Ghana) and Rosemary Nwaebuni (Nigeria)
A powerful pack of professional fraudsters parading as medical practitioners are on the prowl in various parts of Nigeria and Ghana, practicing and promoting quackery at exorbitant prices and great risk to people’s health.
They prey on poor people, pervert the healthcare system and plunge their powerless patients into endless pain and, sometimes, permanent paralysis and deformity.
Vulnerable and pregnant people are particularly exploited by these quacks who pose as qualified medical doctors.
Every person needs medical attention at a point in his or her life and the desperate need for healthcare have sometimes driven especially the poor and vulnerable to the hands of persons NOT qualified to treat them: Quack medics!
The end result of this desperation is irreparable physical and internal deformity, complication of existing ailment, and in some cases, death.
Reporter Anas Areyemaw Anas makes the journey to Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria to collaborate with a colleague, Rosemary Nwaebuni, to undertake an undercover operation to lift the lid off fraudulently operating ‘doctors,’ whose activities are on the rise across the country.
Quackery appears to be widespread in both Ghana and Nigeria. The two countries do not appear to be doing enough to solve the problem.
A majority of these ‘doctors’ in Ghana and Nigeria use the conduct of abortions as the bedrock of their practice. The reason for this is that abortion is considered to be a crime and society general frowns at it-thus pregnant women, desperate to conceal their actions, usually find themselves patronising quacks.
The ‘doctors’ employ crude means to conduct illegal abortions for young women. Some of these young women who survive find themselves living with the harrowing reality of infertility thereafter. Some others end up being deformed while the families of several others are only able to tell the stories of how their loved ones suffered complications till death.
THE DRAMA OF UPROOTING THE DECADENCE
The incidence of quack doctors is a major headache for health authorities across Nigeria. The authorities have almost always looked on helplessly when confronted with the issue. Their excuse being that it is difficult to prove the activities of such criminals.
The need to provide evidence so badly sought by authorities informed the decision to go undercover to expose the criminals masquerading as doctors.
This reporter and a Nigerian colleague, Rosemary, set out to meet one Johnson Chukwudi, a pharmacist who specializes in illegal abortions. He carries out the operation at the back of his pharmacy.
Playing the role of Rosemary’s boyfriend who had accompanied her to undertake the procedure, the reporter insisted that he stayed by her side during the pregnancy test. ‘Dr.’ Chukwudi agreed.
He did not conduct any test on Rosemary, neither did the pharmacist-turned-‘doctor’ ask for any symptoms of the pregnancy. It turned out that his main interest was the money he would receive from us for the abortion.
His test was weird; it took ‘Dr.’ Chukwudi less than five minutes to conclude that Rosemary was pregnant. He merely poked her in the belly a few times, and declared, “It is there”, meaning a foetus was present and the abortion could be done.
Our team managed to convince him that we would be back for the abortion to be carried out at a later date. Our plan was to come back with the police to arrest Mr. Chukwudi.
On the planned day of his arrest, it turned out that information of our intended raid of his ‘clinic’ with the police had leaked to him and he absconded by the time we reached his premises.
THE AUSTIN ROYAL CLINIC WIZARDRY
The team’s next stop was the Austin Royal Clinic at Oleh in the Niger Delta District. The quack doctor here was one ‘Deacon’ Austin Awhotu. Curiously,is clinic had an organized ambience. The place was well demarcated, well furnished and kept in an orderly manner.
An earlier meeting with the doctor took place in a pharmacy belonging him. The plan was for Rosemary to feign signs of severe heart attack, loss of appetite, insomnia, general body weakness and swelling in a part of her body where she had allegedly had an earlier surgery.
‘Dr.’ Awhotu claimed the wound from the earlier surgery had not died completely and that he would only prescribe some drugs for Rosemary- drugs that could be bought from his pharmacy. Again, we asked to return at a later date for further tests and to buy the drugs.
When we returned to the clinic, we observed that the entire medical diagnosis at the clinic was usually done with an unlicensed and controversial device called the Quantum Resonance Analyzer (QRA).
This time round, the team came in with three friends to test how true it was that the clinic was notorious for diagnosing people for illnesses the people did not have and prescribing drugs to that effect.
THE QRA PROCESS
The patient is asked to sit in a chair and handed a silvery object, the size of a ball pen, whiles another gadget is strapped to their muscles. After a few minutes of tweaking and working the other end of the gadget in the hand; the results pop unto a computer screen and one of two nurses in charge prints out a report for the patient.
After the first result, a second test is ordered. This other test entails poking parts of the palm, particularly the artery lines with a gadget that has a cord linked to a ‘medical’ box of sorts.
The nurse then produced a report that reads like this: “BP 124/64, MMHG 63 b/m, prostrate P/H, Small and big intestine P/H, lungs inflammation P/H, Headache P/H, Cold and Cough mildly seen, Sugar level P/H, Right brain affected!”
And with that, the persons this reporter went with, who had been passed healthy by a qualified medical officer, were diagnosed by the QRA as having typhoid, malaria or both and other serious ailments. This leg of the investigation gave a fair idea of how these quacks diagnose non-existent ailments.
FACE TO FACE WITH QUACKERY
Our team’s investigation led us to three medics reputed for their ‘illegal’ work. They were each invited at different times to a rented house in Sapele in Southern Nigeria to conduct an examination on Rosemary who posed as a sick wife.
In order to lay hands on the evidence badly needed by the Nigerian health authorities for prosecution, we first rigged the house with hidden cameras. The main one was fixed to the ceiling of the room where ‘sick’ Rosemary laid.
The first doctor to be invited in was Chris Emesakoro. Unknown to him, Rosemary had rehearsed symptoms of serious heart attack over the last few days. He went ahead to side step all symptoms of heart attack as best as Rosemary exhibited them and diagnosed her as having malaria and typhoid.
During the examination, this reporter asked if he was a medical doctor – the capacity in which he was invited, he responded in the negative, revealing instead that he only run a pharmacy shop.
Anas: Doctor, which place are you a doctor?
Emesakoro: No, I run a pharmacy shop. I’m not a hospital doctor.
The second to come in was one Nurse Charity. She went straight to prescribe drugs for the patient without any examination whatsoever. Like Chris, she also failed to identify the heart attack symptoms. This was a clear sign that she lacked the relevant training to do the job that she had taken upon herself.
One ‘Dr.’ Sapele was the last to come in, he diagnosed Rosemary as suffering malaria after pouncing his hand on her abdomen in a rather weird manner. He diagnosed the swollen leg symptom as having to do with her sleeping posture.
BEER BAR ABORTION DOCTOR
Mr. and Mrs. Aigbe Ogboru operate a beer parlour in Sapele Local Government Area in Delta State, it turned out that they use the place as a cover up for a thriving abortion business.
Their facility is located in a densely populated area in Sapele, after a market popularly known as Ghana market. It operates in a building housing a few line shops.
A stone throw from this very building is a restaurant in a canopy at the front of an uncompleted building, operated by the sham doctor’s wife, in another line of shops.
We were tipped off by locals about the activities of the couple who were ably assisted by their sales girl in the restaurant/beer parlour.
The wife plays the role of a “counsellor”. She sweet-talks a patient and is always on hand to give assurances of an incident-free operation.
On the team’s first visit, our story was simple; we needed to carry out an initial diagnosis of pregnancy and then promised to come back on a later date for the abortion to be conducted.
On the said date, the ‘’counsellor’’ told us to pay 500 naira consultation fee first and then she took us to her husband at the bar. They both took us to the inner room which had a bed for examination and abortion.
The wife examined Rosemary and said, “your pregnancy is advanced o and you have taken drugs. Why did you take drugs? Taking drugs is not good. It is going to make your bills high now”. She made that diagnosis just by examining Rosemary with her fingers. She charged us 10,000 naira for the abortion.
Her husband came and did his own examination, repeating what his wife said but adding that because Rosemary had taken drugs and was in pains, the abortion would cost 15,000 naira.
He said he would inject her before commencing the abortion. After much negotiation, he insisted on 11,000 naira for the abortion. So we promised to go raise the funds and then return for the abortion.
As we were stepping out of the bar, a lady was being ushered in for abortion.
On the day fixed for the abortion, ‘pregnant’ Rosemary and I returned to the place with the plan to signal a police team we had arranged to swoop on the ‘clinic’. But not before I had made payment to Mrs. Ogboru. I had marked all the naira notes I used in payment.
Those five minutes when ‘Dr.’ Ogboru was preparing the operating room were very tense moments for the team- what if the police failed to come in on time. Could anything go wrong? we wondered.
But everything went well. As soon as he was about asking for his next victim to come in for the operation to commence, the police came in and arrested him.
His wife – the “counsellor’’ denied receiving payment for the abortion until a Senior Medical Officer of the Nigerian Health Service, Dr. Alfred Efiakoba, who accompanied our team on the raid, revealed that the bills this reporters gave to her were all marked.
The couple were escorted to the police station and detained.
‘DR.’ CHARLES IGUDALA’S ‘IDES OF MARCH’
Royal Dictac is one of the health facilities in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, believed to be involved in unethical medical practices. It was this reason that informed its raid by health ministry officials. They discovered that the ‘doctor’ here, one Charles Igudala, gave every patient – old and young, man or woman – the same drug and injection, irrespective of their complaints and medical history.
He was our next target. We claimed this reporter needed medical diagnosis. During his time at Royal Dictact, the reporter found that Mr. Igudala was not only a quack, but also that his quackery knew no bounds. He used the same syringe multiple times for different patients!
Charles Igudala’s Royal Dictac operates from an auburn-colour painted bungalow housing five small offices created using plywood. The offices, in close proximity, serve as Waiting Room, Consulting Room, Drugs Room, Children’ Waiting Ward, among others.
It is situated in a dirty environment next to a setback and canal, but that is not the only offensive sight around Royal Dictac. At the facility, you find a dirty, wet and obviously disused red-colour rug on the ground some distance away from the entrance.
In fact, its interior seems to have learnt so much from its dirty surroundings that the first thought that easily comes to mind upon entry is that dirt lives inside Royal Dictac. Inside, absurdity defined by dirt, awkward behaviour and conspiracy of the heartless, walks on all fours.
From the unkempt lounge, where sand from foot wears and creeping ants comfortably forms part of the absurd convenience in a hospital that is supposed to treat patients and teach them healthy living, a young man, ostensibly, the facility’s ‘Pharmacist,’ administers drugs from behind a dirty-looking counter, often picking up tablets that fall to the floor!
Like the sick desperate for medical attention, Royal Dictac itself is sick and needs thorough cleaning. From the floor to the plywood partitions; from ceiling fans to the doors; and from the tiled sit-out before its entrance up to its ageing roofing sheets, you find bold signatures of dirt.
A total sham and caricature of what a hospital should be, Royal Dictac qualifies for an immediate danger alert.
The plan was for the police team positioned around the clinic to come in and accost Mr. Igudala just when he was about to administer an injection on me as was his usual practice.
After necessary preliminary ‘tests’, this reporter waited in angst as the ‘Dr.’ left to fetch one of the used syringes that he had been using for multiple patients. The police however quickly came in and arrested our “doctor”.
A visibly worried Mr. Igudala furiously challenged the authorities and claimed to be a certified medical practitioner in Bulgaria. A transcript of our interaction with him is produced below:
Rosemary:Do you have your certificates with you?
Igudala: They are there. I left them behind.
Alfred & Rosemary: Where?
Igudala: In Bulgaria.
Alfred: Even if you studied in Bulgaria if you come to Nigeria, you must register with the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council.
Anas: Is that how things should be done?
Alfred: Old syringes. He’s using old syringes and needles. Look here, behind here.
Anas: What about this side? What is this behind here? What are those?
Anas: What about those lined up there?
Alfred: These are supposed to be drip lines, after you’ve finished you’re supposed to discard them.
Rosemary: These are medicine prescriptions, stuff like that.
These series of investigations has successfully established the proliferation of quack doctors in Nigeria, obtained hard core evidence of their activities and also led to the arrest of two notorious quacks who have been handed over to law enforcement agencies.
PROF ALEX DODOO’S VIEW: LACK OF LEGAL ENFORCEMENT
Speaking on the matter, the director of the World Health Organizations’ Pharmacovigilance centre in Ghana, Prof Alex Dodoo; who monitors drug and patient safety and, has dealt with quacks for years, blames the scourge on a lack of proper legislation.
“These people are able to evade detection or reopen quickly for only one reason -lack of enforcement of existing legislation. Our ability to regulate is so weak that even when we know we should go and check every day, we don’t have the personnel to go and check.”
He goes further to liken the patronizing of services of quacks to agreeing to fly in an aircraft without a qualified pilot.
“If the one is not licensed by the state, anything that one does is illegal. Going to see them is dangerous. Period! Would you sit in an aeroplane where the pilot says “OK hello, I’m the pilot, but I’ve not been licensed?” No way! You put your health at risk and you can die,” he said.
GHANA’S DIRTY STORY
These stories of charlatans parading as doctors, is similar to a New Crusading GUIDE publication in September 2013. The story titled: ‘Abortion Sex Lord’, exposed the activities of one ‘Dr. Drah,’ who was illegally operating an abortion clinic here in Madina, a suburb of Accra.
The Universal Mission Clinic, which he runs, has all the features of a clinic and any sick person would visit the facility hoping to get quality health care.
It turned out that under all the niceness that the exterior of the clinic presented, Mr. Drah’s main job was conducting abortion for young ladies who visited his facility. He was an expert in aborting foetuses irrespective of the stage of the pregnancy.
Abortion is illegal in Ghana, and since Mr. Drah was engaging in it, he was committing offence. The bigger crime had to do with convincing most of these young ladies in the middle of an abortion that having sex with them would make the process much easier and painless.
We captured him on hidden camera undressing in the middle of several abortions to have unprotected sex with his victims before continuing with the procedure which largely entailed putting his hands into the lower crevices of his clients. The bloody contents were always deposited in a small bucket and, as we learnt, flushed down his septic tank.
The case was reported to the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service leading to his arrest and subsequent prosecution. He admitted that he had never attended medical school and was not a doctor. He also admitted to the act of having sex with his patients in the theatre room. This reporter has personally testified in the case in court.
Mr. Drah is currently on bail and our checks very recently points to the fact that he is back in the business of conducting these abortions in the very same clinic! This can only mean that no steps were taken by the regulatory agencies to shut the clinic down and to ensure that the general public knew that Drah was nothing but a quack.
Mr. Anas (Ghana) and Ms. Nwaebuni (Nigeria) conducted this investigation for Al Jazeera’s Africa Investigates Project. It was sent to us for publication by one of the authors.