Authorities in Kano State in Nigeria's North West region are attempting to weed out an unknown number of unlicensed doctors and pharmacists, raising fears that impostors may have infiltrated the country's healthcare system.
An investigation is currently underway to determine the exact number of unlicensed individuals in Kano State. The quack doctors allegedly operate in unregistered private clinics where they often prescribe medicine and attend to patients.
Fatima Nuhu Umar, an unlicensed doctor who was recently arrested and swiftly paraded before the media, admitted to attending to patients and begged for leniency.
"It is true that I'm not a trained health practitioner," Umar said. "I administer drips, blood, drugs, and injections to patients. I'm begging for mercy."
According to local media outlet The Daily Post, up to 130 hospitals, and pharmacies — which in Nigeria includes all health facilities, such as clinics — were being run by unlicensed doctors. In one case, an unqualified individual allegedly carried out a blood transfusion infected with HIV while attempting to treat a malaria patient.
The lack of health facilities in Nigeria's rural regions often leaves patients with few options, making them more likely to unwittingly seek treatment at unlicensed clinics.
Nigeria suffering 'brain drain' of medics
In recent years, an increasing number of doctors and nurses in Nigeria have left the country in search of better pay and conditions in Europe and North America. According to the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), six out of ten doctors in Nigeria plan on leaving for greener pastures.
Experts say the exodus is being driven by a lack of funding and infrastructure, a shortage in medical kits and poor logistics.
Yarma Ahmad Adamu, a senior lecturer at the College of Medical Sciences at Gombe State University, believes the resulting void has made it easier for unscrupulous individuals to set up unlicensed clinics and make quick money.
"Many people use this title (Dr.) that they didn't earn through training and they commit many terrible activities that result in deaths," he told DW.
"The government is only after the revenue, but the monitoring is not being done."
Adamu stressed that the federal government needs to urgently step up inspections at hospitals and other medical facilities.
"Before a license is issued to any hospital, authorities have to verify the academic qualifications of the doctors," he said.
According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), only 24,000 licensed medical doctors are currently available in Nigeria. However, the country needs at least 363,000 doctors to cover its entire population, the Premium Times, ones of Nigeria's leading online media outlets, reported.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country by a wide margin, with approximately 220 million inhabitants. NMA says the country requires a pool of 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people in order to deliver essential health services, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Despair looms high
As more arrests of unlicensed doctors and nurses hit the headlines in Nigeria, many have lost confidence in the already-struggling health sector — particularly in northern Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency has wreaked havoc since 2009, killing thousands, including medical doctors, and displacing over 3 million.
Fadila Kabiru, a resident of Maiduguri in Nigeria's north, said the issue of unlicensed clinics has led to anxiety among residents over where to seek medical attention and whether or not to trust local medics.
"Seriously, these days, we don't have professional doctors," he told DW.
"All of our doctors are just doctors by name but not by qualification. So, I'm afraid of seeing a doctor at any hospital or clinic."
In an attempt to address the situation, Isah Isiyaku, the director of operations at the Private Health Institution Management Agency (PHIMA) in Kano State, said a new law is in the pipeline which would allow the state prosecutor to take on cases of unlicensed doctors.
"There will be a bill called the 'Anti-Quackery Bill'," he told DW. "It will help us to apprehend and prosecute such people quickly."
Al-Amin Muhammad contributed to this report
Edited by: Ineke Mules