AS AUTHORITIES across the country seemingly take light of the goings-on on social media, where information is readily available for the consumption of the millions with smartphones and data, fake medical practitioners continue to make their mark, advertising services and offering remedies online.
This, as the responsibility is seemingly left to vigilant social media users to call out those who may not have the authority to peddle information and advice to a highly vulnerable and desperate community, reliant on what they can lay their hands on when in need.
This, as it has recently become the responsibility of those with a sharp-eye and no authority or training to spot and raise the alarm on the increasing number of “doctors” and other “medical practitioners” making their mark on social media platforms.
South Africa, and the world, has in the last month watched in awe, as, among others, a man masquerading Dr Matthew Lani insisted that he was not only a doctor, but shared “content” while walking through the corridors of public health institution, with a stethoscope plugged in his ears and scrubs on his body.
Social media users queried the medication and medical advice he readily dispensed, asking for proof of his registration and background,.
They posted alleged proof that letterheads from the schools he graduated from were inconsistent, barcodes on his products unrealistic and that no practice number was available to check on his registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
It was on podcasts and social media spaces that the man, who also claimed to be using a pseudonym ‒ and who also claimed to be using a relative’s name, and who claimed to have skipped grades in school, acquired certification from international schools, to become the youngest man who registered a pharmaceutical company in the country ‒ was taken on and asked for proof, while authorities issued statements denying his alleged qualifications, but doing nothing more.
And yet the authorities did not, as called upon and expected, to challenge his claim that he was being “victimised” for being a young, black successful doctor.
So it would be social media again who would applaud quick action of security personnel ‒ and not the police, as might be expected ‒ when the man was arrested as he pranced down the corridors of Helen Joseph Hospital late in October, and they, too, shared the footage of his interrogation by staff ‒ not by the police but by hospital staff, to expose him as an imposter.
Social media, again, questioned his identities, among them Matthew Bongani Lani and Matthew Zingelwa, while on the sidelines Wits, from where he claimed to have graduated, denied ever having ‘a person of that name’ on their database, and the HPCSA said he was definitely not registered with them.
Stakeholders and medical unions joined the fray and called on the Department of Health to arrest him, take his accounts down and take responsibility for the farce.
The South African Medical Association (Sama) said ‘Lani’ and his ilk posed a risk to the public, the department reported him to the police for impersonating a doctor, and the Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (Haitu said the department had to take the blame for making Lani famous, as in June they had promoted his profile by naming him as one of their interns.
Haitu said: “The department has a long history of endorsing and employing people who are not suitably qualified and they often do not even bother to do the necessary checks to confirm qualifications.
“They jumped on the bandwagon and promoted a fake doctor because they wanted to appear relevant.”
Sama spoke on the guidelines for medical professionals, saying they called on them to maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity in their online interactions, while “... ensuring that the exchange of information is scientifically sound, accurate and evidence-based”.
They also recommended that health practitioners separate their professional and personal social media accounts to help maintain the appropriate professional boundaries, while the SA Medical Union said the Lani case exposed the risk that fake doctors and professionals posed to the public.
But Lani would not be the only practitioner outed on social media, as in Limpopo, “pharmacist Nthabiseng Ramakolo masqueraded her alleged professionalism, qualifications and lifestyle online, saying she had obtained a BPharm from the University of Limpopo and worked at a leading dispenser of life saving pills.
They all denounced her, after social media yet again brought her to the forefront.
Back to Gauteng, where a man who either went by Kingsley Leeto Chele or Dr KJ Ncube was arrested in early October after getting women on Facebook to pay him for his services and claiming to be a doctor or pharmacist.
He would escape from custody and be apprehended again, and, much to the delight of onlookers, his case continues in the courts.
This, as the authorities, under the leadership of the HPCSA and police, claim to have stopped at least 124 imposters from operating over the last three years.
Onlookers have called them all out for failing to protect the rights of South Africans to proven healthcare as enshrined in the Constitution, as most cannot afford to take the necessary steps to verify qualifications.
They have said it all pointed to a toothless and crippled system that the public should have no faith in, led by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), the SA Police Service, government health departments and the various bodies charged to safeguard citizen health rights, and the Constitution.