The recent outbreak of Hepatitis C & E in South Kashmir created havoc in the affected villages with authorities watching as mere scapegoats to find an ultimate solution to the growing epidemic. This outbreak swindled number of lives and spreaded like a cloud. The outbreak of Hepatitis C was first reported in Takia Magam and Sonabarie villages of Kokernag in January 2013. After collection of samples, almost 60 percent of the population from the twin villages was diagnosed with Hepatitis- C. Two years on, the number of affected people has reached around 1100 and the disease has consumed 10 lives. The government had then announced free treatment to all the patients of these two villages. But as the media attention faded, authorities slept over the issue. Following series of reports carried by different news agencies, treatment of 200 odd patients had been initiated after Medical Supplies Corporation provided drugs worth Rs 1 crore to Health department, even as the health authorities continued to be in denial mode. In Sagam village alone, at least 65 persons who went for investigation from private diagnostic centers and SKIMS tested positive. While some villagers decided to go for treatment after selling their land, the only source of their livelihood, others can’t afforded even that. Despite media outrage, no thorough screening has been carried out to know the actual status of this deadly disease and to anyhow curb this epidemic from growing deep down to the roots of Anantnag district.
The health authorities should have woken up and gone for mass screening of affected villages while at the same time taking remedial measures to prevent the spread of infection but they haven’t even acknowleded the problem. those who have tested positive were denied registration by the health authorities in local Primary Health Centres (PHC’s) . “The registration of the patients is denied to downplay the issue,” (Greater Kashmir report’s ). Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) already declaring the infection as epidemic and blamed poor health practices in these areas as major reason for the spread of infection.
Assistant Drug Controller, Islamabad Muhamad Iqbal Palla along with his team after inspection initiated action against chemists, medical laboratories and dental clinics for violating the norms and operating in unhygienic conditions claiming that the infection is blood born in nature.
In a similar fashion, the Hepatitis E outbreak at cheki-wangund village of Qazigund in south Kashmir was attributed to supply of highly contaminated drinking water to the inhabitants by PHE Department. Whether it is dis-owening health care in the concerned area or medical negligence, the government’s inaction to initiate any proceedings further added to the worsening situation.
A 2015 study (by SKIMS) revealed 2.4 % prevalence of Hepatitis C in South Kashmir. Despite evidence suggesting that Hepatitis C is on rise in many parts of Jammu & Kashmir, the health authorities in the state continue to test blood samples through the conventional techniques (less effective but cheaper techniques), thus risking lives of hundreds of patients while allowing spreading of the disease.
If we analyse the situation at grassroot level, it is medical negligence in tandem with administrative shielding to Public health Engineering department that paved the way to this outbreak. The appearance of Hepatitis in south Kashmir in the form of recurrent episodes will turn this area into virtual graveyard with more & more people being getting affected with this disease. Whether it is inexperienced supervisory staff, contaminated drinking water supplied or government’s failure to curb the cause, the state authorities with out any delay must come forward to have a look at the situation and research the growing concern.
The Author works at CSIR – Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu, (J&K) as Medical Research Scholar