A Multitude Of Sins Behind Chaparayi Deaths
Maredumilli: Lush green forests, flanking the serpentine road that leads to Maredumilli and beyond from Gokavaram in East Godavari district, welcome its visitors. While the black tar road with shiny white divider markings goes endlessly through the forests beyond Maredumilli, the road to development regrettably comes to an abrupt end just thereafter, cutting off hundreds of adivasi villages scattered on the hills in the forests.
Chaparayi, where 16 adivasi deaths were reported recently, is one such village in the East Godavari Agency. Primepost visited the village inhabited by about 55 families of Konda Reddies, listed in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group, to bring out facts amid reports that the adivasis had died of food poisoning.
Minister for Health and Medical Education, Kamineni Srinivas, who visited the village a couple of days after the deaths were reported, said the villagers died of food poisoning after consuming rotten meat at a marriage function and then drinking contaminated water from the nearby brook, upstream of which a carcass of an animal was also decaying.
When asked about this, a youth angrily retorted, “Don’t you think we are humans? We are not animals to drink such smelly water from the rivulet, where a carcass is decayed in its upstream. We too have a little brain.” His mother stated, “We fetch water only from the stream below because the water of the four bore wells had turned red long ago. These wells are not useful for any purpose. We can’t even wash clothes,” she declared, showing a bowl of reddish, muddy water drawn from a bore well hand pump. “We complained to the officials in a Janmabhoomi programme. Nobody has turned up to repair them till date. We only depend on the stream water, which is clear,”
Then what went wrong?
A medical doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, told Primepost: “If it were food poisoning, the patients would have developed symptoms within 72 hours. The deaths would have occurred within three days. But the deaths in question spanned a three-week time. Moreover, all those who attended the marriage function did not die, although they consumed the same meat and the same water. I rule out food poisoning. Malaria is widespread in the area. Chaparayi villagers died of falciparum malaria.”
It is a known fact that malaria, gastroenteritis and typhoid grip the Agency regions before and during monsoon months. The government should have taken preventive measures, such as anti-larval spraying, distribution of mosquito nets and maintenance of proper sanitation. No village witnessed such measures. It is reported that preventive steps were not taken in any of the villages in the Agency. As a result, malaria-causing mosquitoes rapidly spread in the region, afflicting hundreds of adivasi villagers.
The Health Administration is not willing to declare that the deaths were due to falciparum malaria, which is prevalent in the Agency. However, the smear and rapid kit samples taken from patients admitted to Rampachodavaram Area Hospital in the first three days of the incident will give away the true facts. Of the 58 patients admitted from Chaparayi village, 27 reported positive for malaria.
This fact, along with the reports pouring in from the tribal welfare hostels and schools and other tribal hamlets, also reveals that malaria has been prevalent in the Agency region on an epidemic scale since the onset of monsoons. The million dollar question is why the government is trying to play down the extent of the crisis. The Human Rights Forum (HRF), which went on a fact-finding mission to the village, has this to say: “The government is doing so to cover a multitude of sins it committed.”
What are those sins?
The position of the frontline health worker — Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) — in the village has been lying vacant since 2007. The Boddagandi Primary Health Centre, to which Chaparayi belongs, has only one ASHA worker. The PHC has two sub-centres at Kanivada and Boddagandi, covering 12 villages each.
The regular MPHA (Female) moved to Kutravada on transfer, handing over additional charge to another MPHA of Boddagandi PHC on June 12. The latter was already overburdened by surveillance job in her 12 villages in the hilly terrain. She was thus able to take care of Chaparayi villagers up, along with the MPHA (Male), only on June 23. Although informed on June 23 of the news of deaths of 10 villagers and the grim situation in the village, the MPHA literally failed to inform the authorities till the next day, as there is no means of communication in these remote villages. As the night fell, the MPHA descended the hills the next morning to inform their officials of the deaths. By the time they met the officials, the news had also reached the officials through another visitor from Chaparayi to Maredumilli. An anganwadi worker from the village, Chadala Rukminamma, had reported the incident at Maredumilli to her MLA, V. Rajeswari, who, in turn, passed on the message to officials concerned.
Even after the incident came to light, the officials did not appoint additional grassroots workers, such as MPHAs and ASHAs, in and the surrounding villages. “This shows the extent of government’s negligence,” said Ravi, State Secretary of HRF.
There is an acute shortfall of paramedical staff in the region. Reports post the Chaparayi deaths say that the government is recruiting staff on war-footing. Such recruitments have to be on regular basis if this recurrent problem is to be contained.
The Area Hospital in Rampachodavaram is a 50-bedded hospital, wherein in-patient flow is always around 90 to 100. The bed capacity has to be augmented, given the number of inpatients. Besides, there is a shortfall of the doctors as well. Of the five doctors presently on the rolls, a paediatrician and a gynaecologist are on deputation. When the Primepost was speaking to the in-charge of the hospital on 28 June, three more patients from Chaparayi were brought to the hospital. The doctor looked a bit worried as to where to accommodate them.
Bobbilireddy, whom Primepost met, lost his father, mother and 18-months old male child Ramcharan Reddy, is now in more sorrow. He was to leave for Rampachodavaram hospital, where his wife was admitted for treatment. Bobbilireddy gave to Primepost the list of the 16 deceased of Chaparayi with his hands trembling. He is one of a few literates in the village.
Only an uneasy silence prevailed when this exchange was going!