“Quack” Doctors Accelerate the Global Spread of Superbugs

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

“Quack” doctors in India—those who pass as medical professionals with little or no certifiable training—are accepting large incentives and bribes to prescribe antibiotics, contributing to the rise of superbugs, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in August 2019. The issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria, or superbugs, has now become a global issue. In India, two massive companies, Abbott and Sun Pharma, are responsible for not only unethical business practices, but their contributions to this rise.

Bacteria naturally evolve a resistance to antibiotics, but the massive and inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates this process. Quack doctors are given numerous incentives to bolster the use of antibiotics, all provided by big pharma companies including Abbott and Sun, each of which is a billion-dollar company that does business in more than 100 countries, including the United States. These rewards include the provision of medical equipment, gift cards, televisions, travel, and cash. The incentives are so great that some doctors earn nearly a quarter of their salaries from promoting antibiotic use.

“Sales representatives would also offer extra pills or money as an incentive to buy more antibiotics, encouraging potentially dangerous overprescription,” the Bureau reported. For pharma companies, the doctors are a big market of easy targets. Certified doctors require proof that a product is safe and effective; they inquire as to its long-term results and side effects; and they determine best uses. Quack doctors, by contrast, require no such proof or information, only incentives.

The 2.5 million quack doctors vastly outnumber India’s one million certified doctors. India supposedly has healthcare for the poor, but the programs are short 600,000 doctors and millions of trained nurses. As a result, many citizens turn to quack doctors, who are often located in rural areas or slums with no access to better care. The quacks offer traditional medicine, naturotherapy, and homeopathy. However, many are unaware that their local medical “professionals” are not professionals at all. The lack or training combined with poor ethical practices result in worsening health issues. It is estimated that superbugs kill 58,000 babies per year worldwide.

Although India, the world’s second most populated country, is the epicenter of this growing global epidemic, there has been little to no coverage on the shady business practices and incentives offered by companies like Sun and Abbott. Although superbugs have attracted more attention, they remain poorly understood by the general public, especially in developing nations with uneven access to trustworthy news sources. The Independent co-published the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report; otherwise this story appears to have gone dramatically underreported.

Source: Madlen Davies, Rahul Meesaraganda, and Ben Stockton, “Drug Company Reps Give Quack Doctors Fridges and Televisions to Sell  Antibiotics,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, August 19, 2019, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-08-19/drug-company-reps-give-quack-doctors-fridges-and-televisions-to-sell-antibiotics.

Student Researcher: Allison Rott (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)