For at least a year, Rajesh Yadav went from house to house across three villages in Unnao on his cycle with the promise of “magic treatment” — an injection and teen puriya (three packets) — for just Rs 10. Yadav administered this “treatment” to at least 50 people a day but with the same syringe, washing it with water before injecting the next patient.
Locals in Bangarmau preferred his “treatment”, which they said was cheaper than government medicine, but the district health department has registered an FIR against Yadav. A recently concluded probe found at least 33 residents of these villages tested HIV positive and officials believe Yadav’s injection with the same syringe caused a spike in infections over the last 10 months.
All residents who tested HIV positive have been referred to the Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centre in Kanpur.
Unnao Chief Medical Officer (CMO) SP Chaudhary told The Indian Express that 33 HIV positive cases were identified in three health camps held on January 24, 25 and 26 in Premganj, Chakmirpur and Kirwidiyapur. 566 people were tested in the camps and, according to Chaudhary, 46 HIV cases were reported from the region in the last few months. The FIR was registered on January 31 by Dr Pramod Kumar Dohrey, Medical Superintendent of the Bangarmau Community Health Centre. Yadav is yet to be arrested. Dohrey said a spike in HIV infections was reported in the Bangarmau area last year after which a camp was organised on November 23, 2017 in Premganj area. Then, 13 of 100 villagers tested HIV positive out which led the district administration to constitute a two-member committee on December 1, 2017 to probe the spike.
Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh on Tuesday said: “Sometimes there are truck drivers, who act as a carriers of the virus. We are also conducting a mapping exercise and ensuring their treatment along with awareness. As far as case of any one giving injections without a licence is concerned, strict action will be taken against them.”
Ambrish Bhadauria, Circle Officer, Bangarmau said, “The FIR has been lodged against Rajesh Yadav under sections 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 269 (negligence likely to spread disease) of the Indian Penal Code and sections under the Indian Medical Council Act. We are yet to arrest Yadav and the FIR does not mention an address.”
According to Dr Tanmay Kakkad, a member of the probe committee, they found several patients who were treated by Yadav with the same syringe. “This is just one of the causes we are looking at since medical research shows that the spread of HIV through infected needles could be just 0.3 per cent as the virus cannot survive in open air,” he said.
“We also found that many people in the area worked in other states and they could have been infected there but none admitted to having unprotected sex before us so nothing could be concluded,” said Dr Kakkad.
But in the three Bangarmau villages where HIV cases spiked, locals are still trying to understand why the January health camps were held and what it means for them. While many admitted to being treated by “Doctor” Yadav, they also underscored the failure of the health system in Bangarmau.
An angry 67-year-old man, whose 62-year-old-wife tested HIV positive with another 25 people in Premganj, said, “Why is everyone after him (Yadav). We have no complaint against him. No matter what one says his treatment used to work when we had no option. The medicine prescribed by government doctors cost us nothing less than Rs 100 to Rs 500, at Rs 10 he was a respite.”
His 11-year-old grandson, also tested HIV positive and has stopped school, he said after starting treatment at the ART centre in Kanpur. “The treatment gives him nausea so he has stopped going to school. He had fever a few months ago so we took him to Dr Yadav, who gave him an injection and teen puriya for Rs 10,” the boy’s grandfather said.
Another resident, a 35-year-old daily wage labourer said: “There will hardly be anybody in this village who was not treated by him (Yadav) in the last year or so.” He and his wife both tested HIV positive in January who also said that he had little work since news of his contracting HIV spread.
About a kilometre away is Chakmirpur village, where 10 locals tested HIV positive. “My husband is not getting work after testing positive. We have been asked to go to Kanpur on February 16 for the next treatment but I do not know how I will arrange the money,” said one resident.
Another referred to Yadav as an “angel”. “He was like an angel for us. Government doctors would prescribe medicine from outside, which cost us between Rs 100 and Rs 300, but his injection worked for just Rs 10. If we got good government health care, why would so many flock to Yadav,” said a resident.
While several residents said Yadav would use the same needle after cleaning it with water, none knew what they were injected with. Said one resident, “I don’t know what he gave us, but after the injection I felt a surge of energy.”
A dilapidated building few meters away from Chakmirpur is where Yadav sat for few hours every evening. Satpal Kumar, who runs a small food cart nearby said, “At least 50 to 100 patients lined up for him daily. He had rented this place, but it has been locked since the controversy about his injections began.”
Unnao CMO Chaudhary refuted the allegations that medicines were unavailable at the community health centre.