In Kokernag, an epidemic of Hepatitis C is slowly, silently killing hundreds

In Kokernag, an epidemic of Hepatitis C is slowly, silently killing hundreds
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Treatment refused to those on official ‘list of infected’, screenings stopped long ago
KOKERNAG: In 2013, when Hepatitis C virus was detected in Kokernag area, the government carried out a random screening of people living in the twin villages of Magam and Sonbrarie in Kokernag. In that screening, almost all the family members of Abdul Majid Lone and his brother Abdul Rashid Lone had tested positive. The poverty-stricken family was left with no remedy except to wait for the government’s help, a sign of which came one year later, when the cabinet meeting chaired by then chief minister Omar Abdullah in January 2014 sanctioned Rs 7.5 crore for the treatment of infected people and to prevent the further spread of the virus.
The names of the family members of Abdul Lone and his brother were included in the list of infected people prepared by “respected citizens of the area” and officials of the health department, who announced free treatment for them. More than three years have passed since that announcement, but the poor families of the Lone brothers have instead of receiving the treatment, been denied it.
Health officials refused to provide the families treatment because they had failed to get a “viral load test” done. The families told Kashmir Reader they had no money for that test.
“During the initial days of the detection of the virus, a team of doctors came to our village and screened hundreds of people. During the screening, both me and my wife and my brother’s entire family, including his wife and three daughters, tested positive,” a visibly pale Abdul Lone told Kashmir Reader.
A few months later, he said, officials from the health department returned to the village with a list of the infected people. They asked the infected people to have a “viral load test” test done, from their own money, in order to be eligible for receiving free treatment.
“The test cost 2,500 rupees. It meant five-thousand rupees for me and my wife, and 12,000 rupees for my brother’s family of five. We are daily-wage labourers. We were in no position to get the test done,” Abdul Lone said.
Abdul said that the curse of poverty seems to be written in his fate. “What can we do? We are poor people. Who will listen to us? We have left everything to Allah. If we die of this disease, that might be because it is written in our destiny,” he said.
The Lone family is not the only one awaiting medical help from the government. There are hundreds of people, both men and women, who have been living with this virus silently and hopelessly.
Village headman Habibullah Mir said that there were many poor people whose names were in the official list but who could not receive treatment because they could not bear the expenses of the viral load test.
“We had prepared a list of about 1,200 people who had tested positive during the screening. More than 200 of them were treated by the health department and five-hundred more are under treatment. Rest are either suffering silently, or those who are in sound financial condition are pursuing treatment in private capacity,” Mir told Kashmir Reader.
He said that a team from SKIMS had also visited the village for sample collection and had assured free treatment to those with severe infection. “But the SKIMS authorities also failed to help the people with acute HCV (Hepatitis C Virus). You can see many poor people in the village who are dying silently and slowly,” Mir said.
The health department claims that the disease was brought under control soon after the virus was detected. The residents of Kokernag villages say that the virus is spreading in the area with more and more people testing positive.
“As the authorities are no more doing mass screening in the area, people are now getting the test done on their own. I know many people who tested negative two years ago have have now tested positive,” said a local, Syed Rauf.
Gastroenterologist Dr Muhammad Sultan Khuru in his survey report had described the spread of Hepatitis C virus in the area as a “human tragedy in the making”. He had suggested to the government to sanction at least Rs 50 crore for the control of the “epidemic”.
Chief medical officer (CMO) Anantnag, Dr Fazil Kochak said that of the over 1,100 people who were found infected, his department has treated 207 people so far. “548 others are undergoing treatment. More than two-hundred others below 16 and above 70 were in need of tertiary care and had been suggested to undergo treatment at SKIMS,” the CMO told Kashmir Reader.

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