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Vishnugarh: Where Mumbai is main cause of AIDS
Ehtasham Khan in Hazaribagh |
March 09, 2005 17:48 IST
There is a perennial fear in the eyes of Kisya Devi, 30, these days.
She rarely speaks. She answers each question after a long pause.
She dying a slow death. However, she is not bothered about her own life as much as that of her two children. Her eldest daughter Saritwa is eight and son Hirwa was born in February.
Read about AIDS orphans: Born to die
Her husband Khago Mahto, 32, died in December. Mahto had AIDS. Devi was declared HIV positive in the preliminary test. She doesn't have money for a confirmatory test.
Her newborn is suspected of carrying the deadly virus.
She lives in a hut in Chano village in Vishnugarh town, about 150 km from Jharkhand's capital Ranchi.
Making AIDS drugs available
Vishnugarh, with its 27 villages and 150,000 people, has another deadly name -- "AIDS capital of Jharkhand."
Devi's story is just one among several in this village. The village does not have basic facilities including roads, clean drinking water, hospital and electricity.
A muddy and bumpy road crossing through the fields leads to Devi's two-room hut.
Treating AIDS orphans with care
Like most young men in the village, Devi's husband Mahto went to Mumbai to work as a labourer when he was just 10.
He sent money home regularly. The meager amount that he sent was like manna from heaven for his poor family. While he stayed in Mumbai, his two brothers worked in the fields back home.
He got married about 10 years ago. He used to come home for about a month every year. Last July, he fell sick. So he came back home. His condition deteriorated. He got medicine from local quacks to no avail.
As most people going to work in Mumbai from this village are suspected of having HIV/AIDS, a friend advised him to go for the test. Mahto tested positive for AIDS.
Devi says he stopped sleeping with her after the medical report. But by then she had already conceived. Hirwa was born in February.
"Sab babaal kar delthin (villagers made it a controversy)," she says. The disease is a stigma and the patient and his/her family is left isolated from the society here. Mahto's two brothers left him and went to another house. Only his mother, wife and daughter stayed with him.
He died but passed on the virus (known here as bimari or disease) to his wife and unborn son.
After the birth of her son, she went to a small private pathology lab in the town for the test after neighbours pressurised her.
The preliminary test cost her Rs 500. The confirmatory test is done in Hazaribagh, about 80 km from her house, for Rs 1,400. She doesn't have money for that.
No one knows that she was positive in the first test. "If they know, they will make my life hell. They suspect it and have asked my daughter to stay away from me," Devi said.
She feels she is physically fit and healthy and can work. With a baby in her lap, she stays at home. Her mother-in-law works as a labourer and cooks at home. The family has 50 sq feet of land to grow vegetables.
Devi says her husband told her before dying that he had gone to a sex worker in Mumbai before the marriage. That is how he got the disease, she said.
Mumbai for the villagers here is synonymous with AIDS.
This is because most men from Vishnugarh go to Mumbai as labourers and drivers as there is little source of income at home.
Whatever money they send has not been able to change the villages. It looks as ancient and poor as in some art movies.
Amidst the hutments stands a giant mansion of Teklal Mahto. He was Jharkhand Mukti Morcha legislator three times from Vishnugarh.
Now a member of Parliament from neighbouring Giridih, he comes to his native village once in a month. He is not much connected to the villagers.
In almost every village in Vishnugarh, one or two people have died of AIDS. Therefore, voluntary groups call it "AIDS capital of Jharkhand."
In Banaso village, Nunnu Shaw died of AIDS last year. He was working in Mumbai since boyhood. He died just one month after marriage.
His parents are now looking for a match for their young widowed daughter-in-law. They haven't got her tested as of now.
Another man Gokul Shaw, 70, died of AIDS two years ago. In this village, five people have died of the disease. One was Vijay Singh, 19, and his uncle Noon Chand Singh, 25.
Noon Chand left behind two sons and wife Malti. Fortunately, they haven't tested positive.
People here are aware of AIDS and how it happens. Still there are misconceptions related to the disease.
There are several NGOs claiming to be working on HIV/AIDS awareness in Vishnugarh. But most of their work is onely on paper.
Just one NGO had come to the village a day before rediff.com visited the place. They performed a street play on HIV/AIDS and pasted posters. Though most people could not read the posters but they understood the play.
Barber Chetlal Thakur says AIDS is caused when one goes to Mumbai and has sex with prostitutes. He knows it also spreads through blood transfusion. He is aware that his razor can transmit the disease. So he keeps two sets of razors. One is the traditional one in which the blade is fixed. It has potential of spreading AIDS. So it costs Rs3 per shave. The other razor costs Rs 4 because a new blade is used for each shave.
Thakur says: "Most people want the Rs 3 shave. I have to do what they want."
The government has HIV/AIDS prominently on its radar. There are about 5.3 million people in India infected with HIV/AIDS.
Global agencies say the figure could be much more than this. After the change of government at the Centre last year, the strategy for tackling the disease changed.
The previous government wanted to promote abstinence for preventing the disease. The incumbent government has taken it upon itself in a big way to create awareness on the disease and promote the use of condoms.
However, the basic testing facility and monitoring mechanism seems to be lacking in places like Vishnugarh that have potential of affecting a large population.
The government hospital in Vishnugarh is a dilapidated two-room building. The only equipment here is the X-ray machine. Nobody knows when it was used the last time. The doctors just look at the patient and prescribe medicine.
The preliminary testing facility is available in five private unrecognised labs in front of the government hospital in Vishnugarh.
For the confirmatory test, the patients are sent to neighbouring Hazaribagh. There too, only the private labs have this facility.
The officials say they don't have the budget for this. Whatever little money they get for HIV/AIDS it is spent on awareness campaigns, they say.
But even publicity could not be seen on the ground.
Poor villagers do not have money to go to private hospitals and labs.
S N Lal, the government doctor at Vishnugarh hospital, was suspended two years ago because he released a report showing high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in that area.
The authorities said it created panic in the villages.
The report said 15 people had died of AIDS and four were detected positive in 2002 in Vishnugarh.
Arun Kumar, medical officer of the government hospital, said: "We do not have any facility for HIV testing. If we suspect, we tell the patients to go to private clinics. I have explained the situation to my seniors."
Virender Kumar of voluntary group Ayachi Foundation said: "The government wants to downplay the problem. It is a serious issue and if not tackled now, it will create havoc in future."