Press Release 30-6-2015

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) views with extreme concern the precarious health situation in the Agency region of Visakhapatnam district. We call upon the government to rush medical and health personnel to the 11 mandals in Visakha Agency so as to prevent adivasis succumbing to cerebral malaria, gastro-enteritis, TB and typhoid. Health personnel have to be at least doubled in the Agency mandals and they must be recruited on a permanent basis. Importantly, it must be ensured that they remain in the Agency and carry out their duties. Unless a meaningful and concrete medical intervention takes place, HRF fears that there might be a general outbreak of falciparum malarial epidemic like the ones that claimed thousands of adivasi lives in the Visakha Agency in 1999, 2005 and 2010.
A three-member HRF team visited 9 villages in two Agency mandals (in the Boithili panchayat of G Madugula mandal and Vanuguma and Lakshmipuram panchayats of Munchingput mandal) on June 28 and 29. There is a serious health crisis in the region with adivasis being afflicted principally with malaria and other ailments. In every village we visited there were not less than five persons bed-ridden with clear symptoms of malaria like high fever, chills, intense sweating, nausea and lack of appetite. The situation in the remote habitations is worse. There is no reason to believe that conditions are any different in the other 9 mandals of Visakha Agency. Even though it is a known fact that malaria and gastro-enteritis visit the Agency before and during the monsoon months, sufficient preventive steps have not been taken.
It was clear to the HRF team that despite claims by the government that malaria is under control, the deadly disease continues to stalk the Agency region. Only a few of the sick have been treated by existing medical and health personnel. Even the first round of anti-larval spraying operations have not been carried out properly and comprehensively. For instance, only the first round of spraying was done in April and that too in only 3 of the nine villages we visited. The 1st round of spraying is supposed to have been completed in all villages in late March-early April and the second by June-July, followed by a 3rd round in November-December.
The community health workers (CHWs), the basic health unit in every village are not only badly trained, they have not had their monthly honorarium of Rs 400 paid since the past 11 months. This is atrocious.
Potable water is a basic human requirement and the government has a responsibility to provide it to all citizens. It is shameful that this basic need has not been met in the 5th Scheduled region by the government. In many remote villages adivasis have no go but to consume polluted water. In the event, given the poor food security status of the adivasis, they are more prone to succumbing to preventable diseases. All that the administration seems to be doing is drawing up contingency plans and putting out statements of intent. Very little is being done on the ground.
The medical and health department is consistently trying to play down the extent of the crisis and only resorting to temporary fire-fighting measures. This irresponsibility can lead to tragic consequences since if the extent and nature of the crisis is not even acknowledged, then prevention and cure cannot be taken up successfully. This has happened in the past and has only resulted in adivasis succumbing to these preventable and treatable diseases with fatal regularity year after year.
It may be recalled that over 4,500 adivasis died of cerebral malaria in the North Andhra Agency region in the summer of 1999 and thousands more of the same ailment in the summers of 2005 and 2010. The deaths were because they had no access to clean drinking water, inefficient and insufficient medicare, malnutrition leading to enfeebled resistance to disease, poor protection from mosquito bite, appalling public hygiene and pathetic health intervention by successive governments. The negligence of the State in its minimal administrative and welfare responsibilities was the proximate cause of these unconscionable deaths.
This governmental neglect is still evident in the Visakhapatnam Agency. Unless appropriate and substantive medical care combined with nutrition and clean drinking water is provided for, many adivasis may succumb to preventable and treatable diseases as the monsoon progresses.

VS Krishna
(HRF general secretary, AP & TS)