At least 33 people have tested positive for HIV in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after an unqualified medical practitioner injected some of them with an infected syringe, a government official said.
The 33 were confirmed from among 566 people tested at government-organised HIV screening camps on January 24, 25 and 27, according to S P Choudhary, chief medical officer (CMO) of Unnao district.
The camps were set up after several suspected HIV cases showed up during routine tests at the district hospitals in Bangarmau town in Unnai late last year, he added.
“We ask HIV patients various things to know the source of infection,” Choudhary said.
“When we asked these patients whether they had used common syringes, some of them told us about a doctor they went to who uses the same syringe on all his patients.”
Arun Pratap Singh, a Bangarmau police official, said an investigative file had been opened against the suspect doctor identified as Rajendra Kumar.
Singh said Kumar had gone into hiding and police were searching for him.
He said the doctor could be charged with carrying out a negligent act likely to spread infection of diseases, voluntarily causing grievous harm by using dangerous weapons or means, and practising medicine without having registration as a medical practitioner with the state government.
Choudhary said he was not sure how many of the 33 cases were connected to Kumar, but that an investigation by a state government committee was continuing.
“Patients have told us this man is about 35 years old and would go around on a bicycle, giving out pills and injections to treat colds, coughs and other ailments.
He is a quack,” Choudhary said.
Five of those infected were children, mostly under the age of 12 years.
A shortage of doctors in India leads many patients to depend on unqualified practitioners, many of whom work out of hole-in-the-wall clinics in rural areas.
The Indian Medical Association estimates that about 45% of the people in India who practice medicine have no formal training.
Critics have in the past blamed a lack of stringent criminal penalties that allow quacks to thrive.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has a sketchy healthcare record in a country whose spending on medical care ranks among the lowest in the world as a percentage of GDP.
Dozens of deaths from encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh last year led to a firestorm of criticism of the state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who took office early last year.
Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh told reporters that the patients had been referred to the anti-retroviral therapy centre in the nearby city of Kanpur.
The therapy involves a combination of anti-retroviral drugs to suppress HIV and stop its progression.
ART also helps prevent transmission of HIV.
India had a total of 2.1mn people living with HIV at the end of 2016, with new infections that year totalling 80,000.
“We are investigating the matter and will arrest the accused soon,” Singh said.
Nath Singh informed that efforts were on to arrest the quack.
The affected persons have been admitted to the Kanpur medical college and were being counselled and treated there, the minister said.
Officials informed that a medical camp was organised by the state’s health department at Bangarmau in Unnao district on February 3 and during Elisa and other confirmatory tests, 40 persons were found to be infected by HIV.
Locals allege that the quack used to use one syringe for injections on every patient and possibly infected others by a needle used on an Aids patient.
The minister said that the area where the incident took place has lots of truck drivers who stop and use this area for sex.
He said that awareness camps will be organised there to prevent this.
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