By Ankita Gupta
Nearly 46 people have tested positive for HIV, in the Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh- after an unqualified medical practitioner infected them with a contaminated syringe. The hazard has exposed India’s inept healthcare system and the escalating cases of medical malpractice.
The quack doctor, identified as Rajendra Yadav, has infected dozens of people with the HIV virus- including four children. He was rounded up by the police from a relative’s place, where he had been hiding. An investigation against Yadav started when twelve people from the Paharganj village were diagnosed with the HIV virus. They were mostly elderly people and children and were unlikely to have contracted the disease through sexual contact. This raised a red flag amongst the officials and suggested that contaminated needles were a possible source for the spurt of the infection.
After running a routine check-up in Premganj and the neighbouring village Chakmirapur, several others were added to the list of infected people. Victims ranged from toddlers to septuagenarians. When the authorities questioned them, stories about a bicycling doctor surfaced and Yadav was caught based on a tip-off. He is now facing charges of practicing without a license and negligent action culpable to homicide.
The ‘Ten Rupees’ doctor with hundreds of patients
Yadav had been practicing medicine for several years now in Premganj, a hamlet in Uttar Pradesh. He was hailed as a ‘saviour’ by the villagers, who offered an affordable treatment for their ailments. Yadav would travel to Premganj on his bicycle and treat more than 50 people on a daily basis. He was available at odd hours, and the villagers, who were mostly labourers, found it easy to approach him. They would even receive treatment from Yadav on the road if they bumped into his bicycle on their way to work. His patients claimed that he treated them with respect and politeness. The poor villagers placed their trust on Yadav for another important reason- that he treated their ailments for a paltry sum of Rs 10. They fondly called him the ‘dus wala doctor.’
Even though the villagers saw that Yadav was using the same syringe multiple times, they did not complain. They found his advice and remedies to be useful and cheap. “His typical treatment was to use the syringe, be it any illness; a headache, stomach ache or fever. I think there is not a person left in the basti who did not the feel the prick of his injection,” said one of the villagers.
Little did they know that they were putting their lives at risk in exchange of ten rupees. Yadav himself has admitted to using the same syringe on multiple patients because it saved cost but did not reveal whether he was aware of the tragic repercussions. An alarming number of villagers who had received treatment from Yadav contracted HIV. They are now undergoing an anti-retroviral therapy in a government health organization.
Quacks or unqualified medical professionals are very common in India. It has an estimated number of 840,000 doctors- one for every 1,674 citizens- much less than the 1 doctor per 100 people prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The quacks readily step into their shoes and practice unchecked in a healthcare system that is struggling to meet the needs of the 1.25 billion population.
According to a report released by WHO, about a third of the people claiming to be doctors have never even received a formal medical training. The healthcare contraband is so rampant that the Delhi Medical Council has to maintain a running list of the hundreds of ‘quack’ doctors. These self-made medics offer treatment for minor ailments through routine prescriptions of injections, painkillers, and antibiotics.
Dr. Amit Sengupta, who is the convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan stated, “The majority of Indians are dependent on unqualified doctors because of access and affordability issues. These practitioners pose a huge threat to public health. Unfortunately, we do not have data pertaining to such cases, barring the few anecdotes reported in the media. Lack of regulation allows them to flourish.”
The sad truth of healthcare in India
The locals chose Yadav for treating their ailments over the Bangermau Health Centre, located just a kilometer away from Premganj. They complained that free treatment was a sham and only the influential people received medical attention. Even if the appointment fees were low, the medicines prescribed by the government doctors were often expensive. Several villagers lamented that the doctors were either absent or available for only a few hours of the day. Authorities, on the other hand, blamed “general illiteracy” for the state of affairs.
Unbridled corruption has also worsened the situation for the patients. There have been cases of people undergoing major surgeries under torchlight on account of a power outage in government hospitals. The past year saw several deaths from encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh festering heavy backlash on the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath.
India spends only about 1 percent GDP on public healthcare- amongst the lowest in the world. Even though the government has announced a national healthcare plan for half a billion population, they have made no disclosure on how it will be funded.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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