BANGARMAU: Tears of howling Lakhanpal, 40, (name changed) tell the tale of his agony coupled with panic. A labourer, Lakhan has tested positive for HIV and the symptoms are evolving gradually.
He has a family of six including wife Sushila Devi, 40, (name changed), a son Ashu, 3 (name changed) and four daughters. Besides Lakhan, his wife and son have also contracted the deadly virus. All three were detected HIV positive in July, last year.
Sushila is already bed ridden, Lakhan’s health too is deteriorating making it difficult for him to earn whatever he used to as a daily wager. “I neither have money nor able to work owing to my failing health. It is too costly for me to go to Kanpur every time to get the medicines,” rues Lakhan with eyes welled up. All three are undergoing Anti-Retroviral Therapy at Kanpur.
Similar is the saga of many in Prem Ganj, a settlement of about 5,000 population and worst affected of the three villages screened for HIV since last year. The residents of this newly- created Municipal Board are living under the shadow of an unknown fear. As of now, 38 of 286 persons from here have been found HIV positive at a screening camp late last month. Two other villages under the virus onslaught are nearby Chakmeera and Kareemuddin Nagar.
Among the victims is a 70-year-old man and also a 6- year old girl. Seema, 6, (name changed) is putting up with her aunt as the kid has already lost both her parents. “They died after ailing for some time. They might have had HIV but died undetected,” says an Asha Bahu (a local aganbadi health worker) of the village on the condition of anonymity.
Shyamu, 35, used to work as a labourer in a nearby grain market and his wife Kamla, 32, (both name changed) was working with a contractor getting her embroidery consignments before the couple got inflicted with HIV. Similarly, Deepu, 15, (name changed) studies in Class X is avoiding school for the last 10 days after he tested positive for HIV at January 27 camp in Prem Ganj.
The villagers are faced with a double whammy of killer disease on one hand and social stigma on the other. While victims are awaiting the worst, unscreened are scared of the probability.
The health officials of Bangarmau CHC are at receiving end. Residents of all three villages screened so far blame the Chief Medical Superintendent of allegedly being hand in glove with medical stores.”At CHC, we wouldn’t get any medicine. Doctors hardly examine us. For every ailment, they ask us to get the tests done,” says Devesh. While Sunil Kumar, the Prem Ganj corporator adds that the CHC doctors prescribe medicines to villagers to be bought from fixed medical stores. “That costs us minimum Rs 200 which everyone can’t afford in the village,” he maintains.
“They are more interested in private practice calling the patients to their place and charging Rs 50-100 as consultation fee. They give prescription as they get commission from medical stores,” claims Naresh, 40.
Prem Ganj has a majority of Dalits who work as labourers and daily wagers. Some go to Lucknow, Kanpur, even till Punjab, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru in search of work.
While the situation has left the health officials flummoxed, they have shifted the entire blame to Rajendra Yadav, a quack, who was immensely popular till a few days ago, for his Rs 10 medicines which also included an injection, for all kinds of ailments.
“With such rampant corruption in CHC, the poor villagers had no place to go but to ‘Rs 10 doctor’ as Rajendra Yadav is popular among the people,” says Sunil adding that even the CHC CMS knew about the quack but he did not do anything to stop him. “Now the villagers are suffering because of him,” he states.
However, booked under Section 279 and 308 of IPC and Section 15 of Indian Medical Council Act, Yadav is now in police net as he was arrested on Wednesday evening.
While the state health minister has ordered a probe into the reason of spread, a team of UP state AIDS Control society (UPSACS) visited the affected village on Wednesday to assess the situation on ground. “It is just the tip of an iceberg as only a limited number of people have been screened. The tehsil has a population over two lakh and the number of inflicted persons could be much higher,” says Sunil Kumar.
Though the quack is in the eye of the storm over the crisis, some in the village hinted at unprotected sexual practices common among villagers. “Those who have gone out to work, when return to their families, bring such things with them,” says Rameshwar who works in a tannery on Kanpur-Unnao border.
However, CHC CMS Dr PK Dohre attributes the infection to the high prevalence rate of TB in this pocket. TB makes these people vulnerable to HIV infection,” he claims and adds that possibility of the role of migratory labourers cannot be ruled out. He, meanwhile, refuses all the allegations of irregularities at CHC.