Doctors and patients for hire
Last December, Dilshad Chaudhry travelled with about 100 of his fellow villagers by bus to a local Indian medical-school hospital. They'd been told that foreign doctors were coming to tour the facility, and check-ups would be free.
There was nothing wrong with Chaudhry; he was accompanying his brother, who had a back problem. But "every person was told to lie in a bed even if they're not sick," he said. The 20-year-old electrician said he never saw any foreign physicians that day, but the hospital's Indian doctors kept checking that the phony patients were in bed. "They wanted to make sure no one escaped," he said.
That was the same month government inspectors visited the hospital, which is at Muzaffarnagar Medical College, 80 miles northeast of New Delhi. The inspectors checked, among other things, whether there were enough patients to provide students with adequate clinical experience. They determined there were.
But a year earlier, inspectors had found that most of the college hospital's outpatients "were fake and dummy and seems to be hired from nearby slum area," according to the official report. "In paediatric ward all children were admitted ... without any medical problem and were hired from nearby area!!!!!"
"I am not very keen to reply," said Dr Anil Agarwal, the school's principal, when asked about the episode with Chaudhry.
India's system for training doctors is broken. It is plagued by rampant fraud and unprofessional teaching practices, exacerbating the public health challenge facing this fast-growing but still poor nation of about 1.25 billion people.
The ramifications spread beyond the country's borders: India is the world's largest exporter of doctors, with about 47000 currently practicing in the United States and about 25000 in the United Kingdom.
In a four-month investigation, Reuters has documented the full extent of the fraud in India's medical-education system. It found, among other things, that more than one out of every six of the country's 398 medical schools has been accused of cheating, according to Indian government records and court filings.
The Reuters probe also found that recruiting companies routinely provide medical colleges with doctors to pose as full-time faculty members to pass government inspections. To demonstrate that teaching hospitals have enough patients to provide students with clinical experience, colleges round up healthy people to pretend they are sick.
Text: Andrew MacAskill, Steve Stecklow and Sanjeev Miglani, Reuters
Image: Muzaffarnagar Medical College was accused of hiring local villagers, including children, to pose as patients to pass a government inspection; the principal denies it.
Images courtesy: Reuters