Govt Urged To Respond Urgently To Health Crisis In Vizag Agency

The Human Rights Forum calls upon the State government to rush medical and health personnel to the 11 mandals in Visakha Agency so as to prevent more Adivasis succumbing to cerebral malaria, gastro-enteritis and typhoid.

A three-member HRF team visited 15 villages in five Agency mandals (Padabayulu, Munchingput, Paderu, G Madugula and Hukumpet) over two days on July 2-3. There is a serious health crisis in the region with Adivasis being afflicted principally with malaria and also gastro-enteritis and typhoid. Though exact counts are difficult to ascertain, several dozens have succumbed to these ailments. In every village we visited there were not less than five persons bed-ridden with high fever, chills, intense sweating, nausea and lack of appetite. The situation in the remote habitations is worse.

The government’s response to this crisis has been pathetic. Even though it is a known fact that malaria visits the Agency during monsoon, hardly any preventable steps were taken. The medical and health department is consistently trying to play down the extent of the crisis and only resorting to adhoc measures. This has happened in the past and has only resulted in Adivasis succumbing to these treatable diseases with fatal regularity year after year.

The extent of negligence can be understood by the fact that anti-larval spraying was taken up in just one of the 15 villages we visited. The first round of spraying is supposed to be completed in late March-April and the second by June-July. It is only recently that the first round has started and that too not in all habitations! The community health workers (CHWs), the basic health unit in every village are not only badly trained and are in most cases not up to the job, they have not had their monthly honorarium of Rs 400 paid since almost 10 months. In fact, in four of the 15 villages, the CHWs were also down with malaria.

Shockingly, the medical and health department is not even acknowledging the extent of the crisis and is busy playing it down. Deaths due to malaria since the rains arrived this year are being sought to be passed off as due to other diseases like cancer, heart-stroke, old age, TB etc. This irresponsibility often leads 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.

In several villages, people are unable to access clean drinking water. Clean water is a basic human requirement and the government has a responsibility to provide it to citizens. It is shameful that this basic need has not been fulfilled by the government. 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. 

Clearly, the existing medical and health staff in the Agency has to be doubled and personnel recruited on a permanent and not temporary basis. The salary of CHWs has to be increased to Rs 1000 and they must be given proper training and paid on a regular basis. Mosquito nets have to be supplied to all households within a week. All habitations must be provided with potable water through the ‘gravity scheme’.

It may be recalled that over 4,000 tribals died of cerebral malaria in Visakhapatnam Agency in the summer of 1999 and over 2,500 of the same ailment in the summer of 2005. 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, atrocious 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.

That neglect is still evident in the Paderu Agency now. Urgent steps are called for to provide appropriate and substantive medical care combined with nutrition and clean drinking water. HRF fears that unless the government wakes up and responds on a war-footing to the ongoing health crisis, there might be a general outbreak of falciparum malaria cases yet again with tragic consequences. Many more Adivasis may succumb to preventable and treatable diseases as the monsoon progresses.

VS Krishna
HRF State general secretary


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