Steeped in ignorance and nowhere to flee from stigma

When Kaidar Bangera,a construction worker in Panvel realised the intensity of his ailment in September last,he returned to his native place in Bidar district of north Karnataka.

Written by Sukanya Shetty | Mumbai | Published: January 18, 2009 1:13:18 am

HIV hounds construction workers in Raigad 17

When Kaidar Bangera,a construction worker in Panvel realised the intensity of his ailment in September last,he returned to his native place in Bidar district of north Karnataka. Tested HIV positive,he little realised that the move to escape from prying eyes could be fatal.

Villagers there allegedly tied Bangera to a tree in a jungle near Basaveshwara village and burnt him to death. A stray dog,who apparently fed on the body,was burnt,too.

The villagers apparently did not know what the ailment was and the police believe the crime was the fallout of the villagers’ obsession with black magic.

Bangera was one of the construction workers,who tried to hide fearing ostracisation after being tested HIV positive.

HIV infection rate among construction workers is as high as 60 per cent Raigad district,50 km from Mumbai.

A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals that nearly 57 per cent of over 1 lakh construction workers have taken ill in the past few years. They also suffer from other diseases like asthma,cancer and tuberculosis,common among construction workers.

According to the ILO report,Raigad witnessed an inflow of migrants due to increased economic activity like the construction of the international airport,presence of a large steel market and special economic zone activities. The area is being identified as one of the most sensitive “sexually vulnerable” regions of Maharashtra. The state is among the six high prevalence states in the country,with the sensitive zones being Mumbai, Thane,Raigad,Satara,Sangli and Chandrapur.

Lack of sex education is an area of primary concern. The report also examines a peculiar economic-sexual dependency pattern making the problem difficult to work on.

Vinod Bhatt,a volunteer from Nirman Mazdoor Sangathan (NMS),an organization that carried out the random sample survey in the district along with ILO,claims that migration went hand in hand with prostitution.

“While some men visited red light areas,in several instances,prostitution is breeding within the community. We found that 24 per cent of the women within the migrant community were in the flesh trade,” says Bhatt.

Most patients get treatment for immediate symptoms like cold and flu. “Very few get blood tests done. And when the disease is detected,many flee to their native places due to fear of ostracisation,” says Bhatt.

Social stigma remains a roadblock in HIV prevention despite awareness drives by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). The ILO report reveals over 70 per cent that of the people surveyed did not know the cause of the disease,leave alone precautions to be adopted. The findings of the National Family Health Survery III were similar.

Prasad Rathod who was detected with AIDS three months back is yet to consult an expert. Rathod says if his illness comes out in the open,he may lose his job. Rathod,who works at one of the busiest Nakas of Kalamboli village,has two daughters. His wife apparently died of an “unknown disease.”

Another construction worker,infected last year and under treatment now,says,“My husband worked at a site amidst several men infected with the disease. He ate and drank with them and later got infected himself.”

The survey says that nearly 51 per cent of migrant workers are from the Maharashtra itself,who shifted in search of jobs. The second highest number is from Karnataka (22 %) followed by Uttar Pradesh (14 %) and Orissa (10%).

The survey was carried out in 86 Nakas in Raigad. “Raigad has shown a phenomenal economic growth in the past decade. While most workers are engaged in construction within Raigad,a few of them travel as far as Andheri and Lower Parel in suburban Mumbai,” said another worker.

(Names of patients changed to protect identity)

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