The anti-retroviral treatment centre in Sakchi. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Scores of underprivileged people, including children, grappling with HIV are not being treated in Kolhan because the region’s lone state-owned anti-retroviral treatment (ART) centre has run out of life-saving medicines.
It has been a week since the ART unit at MGM Medical College and Hospital in Sakchi, Jamshedpur, has been turning away around 45 victims — more than three of them minors — every day in the absence of first line drug abacavir.
Even second line anti-retroviral remedies — ritonavir and atazanavir — have been exhausted on March 5 and fresh stocks are yet to arrive, leaving around 5,000 registered HIV-positive people from the three districts of East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan at divine mercy.
V.K. Shukla, the secretary of an NGO called Jamshedpur District Level Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, highlighted their predicament.
“Every day since last week, dozens are returning without treatment because they cannot purchase the expensive pills from the open market. We are sometimes making hollow promises about the free medicines being made available soon. The truth is we are in the dark too,” he said.
The seven-year-old ART centre, which is the third of its kind in the state, is run by Jharkhand State AIDS Control Society (JSACS) and supported by National AIDS Control Organisation. Shukla, who conducts counselling sessions at the centre, added that a box of 60 abacavir pills costs Rs 5,000 in the open market.
Parents squarely blame the callous approach of health officials for the sufferings of their HIV-positive children.
“Humlog dur se aayein hain aur bina dawa ke wapas ja rahe hain. Doctor sahib bolte hain ki kuch dino mein aa jayega. Bahar se kharidne ka paisa nahin. Yahan dawa ka vyavasta pehle se karna chahiye (We have come from far away and are returning without medicine. The doctor says pills will be arranged soon. We do not have the money to purchase medicines from outside. Arrangements should have been made in advance to spare us this harassment),” said Manoj Boipoi, a resident of Chaibasa, around 60km from Jamshedpur.
Nodal officer of the ART centre Nirmal Kumar claimed they had both telephonically informed and written to JSACS officials about the depleted medicine stock.
“We have been assured that medicines will be supplied soon,” he said.
Assistant project director of JSACS in Ranchi B.P. Chaurasia could not be contacted.
However, joint director of case support and treatment (CST) Umesh Jaiswal blamed frequent reshuffle in the health department hierarchy for the delay. “Medicines will reach the ART centre in a day or two,” he had said on Wednesday. So far, Thursday brought no relief.
Should the state sponsor HIV medicine purchase from the open market? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org