Health Situation In Vizag Agency Cause For Concern

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) views with extreme concern the serious health crisis in the Agency region of Visakhapatnam district. A four-member HRF team toured in five villages of G Madugula mandal on June 28 to look into the health situation and the government’s response to it. Located in Solabam and Gaduthuru panchayats, three of the 5 villages we visited are remote habitations.

It was clear to us that Adivasis are being afflicted principally with malaria (the deadly falciparum variety) and gastro-enteritis but have not had proper access to health and medical care. Media reports suggest that already over 30 Adivasis have succumbed to malaria since the rains arrived. In every village we visited there were not less than four persons bed-ridden with high fever, chills, intense sweating, nausea and lack of appetite. The situation in the remote Adivasi habitations is worse.

The government’s response to this crisis has been pathetic. Even though it is a known fact that malaria and gastro-enteritis visit the Agency before and during the monsoon months, 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 preventable and treatable diseases with fatal regularity year after year.

The extent of official negligence can be understood by the fact that anti-larval spraying operations have not been done in a single village (not even Solabam and Gaduthuru which are both panchayat headquarters) we visited. The 1st round of spraying is supposed to have been completed in late March-early April and the second by June-July, followed by a 3rd round in November-December. It is only recently that the first round has started and that too in only some selected villages. The community health workers (CHWs), the basic health unit in every village are not only badly trained and in most cases not up to the job, they have not had their monthly honorarium of Rs 400 paid since the past 14 months. This is atrocious. The CHWs have not even been supplied with requisite material like chloroquine tablets and para kits (used to take blood samples for malaria check). Some of the medicines they had were expiry dated!

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. 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 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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