By: Abdurrahman Shamlan
The television show “Heated Files” recently discussed corruption in the Yemeni health sector. Yemeni citizens, however, say that what was revealed represented a mere drop in a vast ocean of problems.
Many patients have died or been left disabled due to gross negligence and medical errors that frequently pass unpunished in Yemen. Thousands of Yemenis fall victim to medical errors at the hands of doctors, whose unearned and undeserved titles and certificates are the only things which connect them with the practice of medicine.
“There exists no difference between Yemeni doctors and the ‘Saharah’ [the Arabic word for magicians who claim that they have supernatural powers enabling them to cure illnesses, solve problems and know the unknown]. Both simply follow a guesswork strategy; both prove to be utter failures at diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications; and both lie to people and pretend they can cure them in order to rip them off,” said Mona Mohammed, a patient who says she has lost her trust in Yemeni doctors.
Many Yemenis have expressed their dissatisfaction with Yemeni doctors, who they say are not good at their jobs and have transformed their sacred profession into a way to earn money. Many have gone so far as to liken doctors to “parasites” which live on human blood.
They further complain that doctors are uncompassionate and merciless, and that they are oftentimes indifferent to, and careless with, their patients’ lives.
Furthermore, people complain that it has become necessary to have contacts and connections at hospitals to ensure that patients are taken care of; that otherwise, your ailing relative will receive the least amount of attention and care, if at all. Also, some people bemoan that doctors at public hospitals aren’t committed to their own schedules, which they attribute to a desire on the part of the doctors for patients to visit their private practices.
Tales of failure
Mohdi Mohammed Saif, a tailor, is a victim of a medical error. When he was 15, he hit something with his foot and it continued to pain him for days. He decided to go to the hospital in the hope that the pain would stop. But rather than cure his pain, they made him undergo a surgery which resulted in the loss of his entire foot.
Now Saif is 29 and he walks with a limp. He sustained a permanent disability simply because his doctors lacked medical knowledge.
Saif thinks that doctors who are not certain about an illness must admit that they don’t know enough, and repeated what the Prophet Mohammed once said: “He who says I don’t know, has said enough.”
Idris Al-Zanam, whose mother passed away lately following a major medical error, said his mother suffered from kidney failure but that the so-called doctors had diagnosed her with Malaria and had given her medication for it, which compounded her health problems and contributed to her death.
“I believe in destiny and I know that she was going to die. But I really despise the way the doctor reacted to my brother when he told him to do everything he could to save my mother’s life. He seemed to be careless and uncompassionate and was treating patients as though they were a bunch of animals… even animals deserve more care and compassion,” he said.
“We have good lawyers, good teachers, and good workers in every field, but when it comes to medicine, I think we lack good doctors. Actually, I don’t think there ever was a good doctor in Yemen,” Al-Zanam added.
Om Shatha, a married woman who has had miscarriages, said, “I’ve sought professional help and medical treatment from almost every famous gynecologist and obstetrician in the country. But every doctor diagnoses my illness completely differently and every diagnosis has proven to be useless.”
“Doctors only keep giving you appointment after appointment for no reason but to rip you off. And eventually their treatment, prescriptions, and diagnoses prove to be useless, if not harmful,” she said.
She believes that incompetent doctors account for more than 95 percent of the total number of doctors in Yemen.
“I once confronted a doctor who I thought was the best. I told her that her diagnosis was wrong, and she placed the blame on laboratory tests,” Om Shatha added.
Suggested consequences for incompetent doctors
Many people whom the National Yemen spoke with have asserted that incompetent doctors must be punished in order to truly curb medical errors in Yemen.
They suggested that doctors who commit more than two medical errors must be banned from practicing their profession, which requires the highest amounts of care, skill and, most importantly, accuracy.
Some people said victims and their families should use media outlets to announce the names of doctors who have harmed them instead of curing their illnesses, while others have suggested that victims should sue incompetent doctors and hold them accountable.
Others have said that incompetent doctors should be forced to pay hefty fines, to compensate for harm caused, and possibly serve prison sentences, depending on the harms caused by medical error.
“I hope that ‘incompetent doctors’ are held accountable for their gross medical errors. Doctors who commit repeated medical errors must be stripped of their certificates and banned from practicing this profession,” said Saif.
“I’m not saying this out of holding grudges against them or anything, but because we should make sure that such ‘failures’ don’t make more people suffer for the rest of their lives. Doctors should have the utmost amount of care and respect for their profession. They must realize that people’s lives and bodies are not there for experiments, and they must be severely punished for their errors,” Saif continued.
University student Ahmed Saleh said, “The patients who had such experiences and now suffer the consequences of medical errors should work hand-in-hand to prevent further occurrences. They must tell media outlets to reveal the reality and ignorance of such doctors. They should start declaring the names of hospitals, doctors and clinics that were behind their suffering at every chance in public places.
Saleh urged media outlets, journalists, human rights activists and lawyers to help patients launch a defamation campaign against doctors who caused them suffering and to receive their rights, and argued that defamation would make physicians more careful and accurate, as they would be afraid of committing unnecessary mistakes.
“Not only would a defamation campaign help reduce the number of medical errors, but it may also motivate good doctors to develop their knowledge, improve their skills, and never just depend on their certificates,” Saleh concluded.