Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quackery can harm individuals in many ways

First, is the loss of a tremendous amount of money which patients invest in pursuing this treatment, and many unscrupulous practitioners can bleed patients and their relatives dry - a little at a time. (There is an old saying: "The highwayman demands 'your money OR your life', but quacks demand "your money AND your life!") Also, many of the quack therapies can cause direct harm. It is a common misconception that 'natural medicines' have no harmful side- effects - but anything which can have an effect, by definition, also has the potential to cause harmful effects (after all, the desired effects of a medicine are what we call its therapeutic action and undesirable effects are labeled 'side-effects'!). The indirect harm they cause can also be enormous: for example, patients may pursue 'alternative medicine' for treating their cancers and may deprive themselves of the opportunity of getting effective state-of-the-art medical treatment.

Quackery flourishes even in the USA where people are much more sophisticated, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides effective policing. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in India this menace is rampant, and there are far more quacks than regular medical practitioners. Faith healing, for example, is an integral part of Indian traditions, especially in villages where educated priests take advantage of people's ignorance and blind faith.

Many of us believe that we are far more sophisticated than the illiterate villager, and are above falling prey to quacks, but we need to realize that modern health quacks are supersalesmen, who play on fear and cater to hope. Who amongst us has not clipped at least one ad or bought at least one product which promises to either make you grow more hair, make you a better lover, remove your wrinkles, make you lose flab or improve your memory? While the cold scientific fact remains that there is not a single effective way of fulfilling the aforementioned claims, the fact that ads for these products are so prevalent obviously means they have a ready audience and are pulling in the bucks for their manufacturers!

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