BANGARMAU: Fifty-eight HIV positive cases across three villages – Prem Ganj, Kareemuddin Nagar and Chakmeera, each with a population around 5,000 -- in Bangarmau Tehsil seem more like just the tip of an iceberg. Population on target of the killer virus is huge and the menace is monstrous as the majority is still unscreened, unmapped.
Banagramu has total 55 gram sabhas with a population over 2.5 lakh. The HIV screening camps since last year have thrown up just a small sample of the ominous presence of a bigger lurking danger which entire Unnao district is exposed to.
“The number of HIV positive patients must be much higher in Unnao. The virus might have had spread its tentacles to pockets beyond Bagnarmau. Only screening is needed to map the cases,” says Dev Prakash, a social activist associated with an NGO active in the area.
Notably, the killer strains had emerged in residents of three villages in July last year during a routine screening. 12 people had tested positive then for the virus from Prem Ganj alone. Another 13 tested positive during another round of screening in November, last year in the same villages. In January end this year, the state AIDS Control body screened 566 more people, of whom 33 gave confirmed positive results.
Five more persons reacted positive to HIV. While the onus of spread has been put on a quack Rajendra Yadav, now in police net, everyone – right from medical authorities to social activists – is wondering if other factors were also involved in the spread.
The victims are somehow made to believe that it was only Rajendra Yadav, the jhola chhap doctor – who distributed them the virus along with the same set of medicines and an injection for all ailments.
Yadav, a native of village Rasoolpur Roori of the same tehsil used to pedal his clinic in a bag to a dingy room near Bangarmau Sanskrit Vidyalaya to attend to his hundreds of patients daily.
“We are told that ‘Rs 10 doctor’ (as Yadav is popular known among villagers) used to administer injection to everyone with same syringe and that has infected so many people with this deadly virus,” says a victim who admits to have approached the quack several times. He then curses the apathy of CHC doctors and lack of health facilities which forced the villagers to approach Yadav.
Unnao CMO, SP Chowdhary, also feels that village’s large migratory population could be behind the spread. “Those who go out to work and return to the family once in a while are potential tools to spread the virus,” he avers.
“A huge influx of migrant workers involved in the construction of the Lucknow-Agra Expressway during 2013-14 could have played a role in infliction especially in Prem Ganj,” says a social activist adding that those labourers used to solicit services of sex workers active in Bangarmau. The expressway is just 3 km away from Bangarmau town and Prem Ganj, which has reported the highest number of cases, is located close to the expressway.
Even high prevalence of TB has made this pocket of the state vulnerable to HIV, feels another activist working among villagers.
Meanwhile, panic has gripped the residents of adjoining villages too. Manku of Bhatpuri is a worried man for he wants the dreaded march of HIV to stop but it is possible only if the reason is known.
“My village must also be in its grip which would be revealed only when the screening will be done,” he rues. The agony has no bounds. Disease on one side, the stigma on the other. Relationships are breaking and people are being silently ostracised.
Lokesh (name changed), of Prem Ganj, is ready to migrate to some other place. His elder sister’s proposed marriage is on rocks. “Didi was engaged to a youth of neighbouring Hardoi district and marriage was fixed for next month. But since this news, her in-laws stopped taking our calls. When we pursued, they refused to the proposal,” shares worried Lokesh.
"We are not infected but for us now migration is the only option to ward off this stigma,” he adds as he has four sisters to be married off."
Anuj of Chakmeer has a different dilemma. A peon at a government office in Lucknow, he feels isolated at the workplace as “people are avoiding to sit with me, eat with me or even talk to me,’ he states his agony.
"I feel ostracised though I have tested negative,” says Anuj.