Taufeeq, 30, is four months pregnant and quite anxious. Apart from ensuring that she is regular for her ante-natal care, she prays fervently that this time her pregnancy goes right.
Her worries are well-founded. Since her marriage in 2005, Taufeeq, a resident of Blue Moon Colony, has conceived just twice—in 2006 and 2012—and on both occasions she miscarried.
Sultana is just 41. But, the mother of an 11-year-old boy reached her menopause a year ago, far ahead of the normal age.
She had been diagnosed with chronic cervicitis and vaginitis.
Shahbano of Kabeetpura also went through a range of painful gynaecological symptoms before getting hysterectomy done about five years ago at a relatively young age of 38. The eldest of her three children sons, 20-year-old Saifuddin was born with hearing and speech impairment.
Separately, these women might look like stray examples of unfortunate medical history. But there is one dreadful thread that makes their plight common and worrisome. All these three women are survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy and were in their pre-puberty stage when the deadly methyl iso-cynate gas blew through on the fateful night.
Like these three, hundreds of Bhopal gas tragedy hit women are suffering from a wide range of gynaecological and reproductive issues.
But, what makes their problem more sensitive is that unlike the survivors suffering from other health complications, these women have hardly any specialised healthcare available.
They have to depend on private hospitals of charitable institutions for their care.
“I was told that I could not be treated at (the) Indira Gandhi Hospital, so I came to Sambhavna clinic,” said Shahbano.Gyanecologist Dr Tapasya Prasad says that issues like menstrual irregularities are very common among gas victims and also women residing in the areas identified as hit by water and soil contamination.
She also mentions that cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal problem with impact on reproductive health – are noticeably higher in these women.“We analysed the data of last two years available with us and found that 10.6% of the women suffer from PCOS compared to 8-10% women in normal population,” said Dr Prasad, who treats affected women at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic - a charitable institution.
Satinath Sarangi of Sambhavna Trust says that very recently some facilities were started at the Indira Gandhi Hospital of the state gas relief department, 16 years after it started functioning in 1998, but few are able to avail of them even now.
Also despite initial slew of scientific studies (see box) indicating huge impact of the gas tragedy on the reproductive health of women, no effort has been made during the last 30 years to create any database on these issues, let alone conduct any worthwhile research that might help rid the women survivors of their maladies.
Activist Abdul Jabbar said that even Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) units like the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) and National Institute for Research in Environmental Health (NIREH) have failed to do anything in the matter.
“They are not even ready to properly consider these problems as fallout of the gas tragedy,” Jabbar said.