In a small dispensary on the ground floor of a nursing home in central Kolkata, an elderly British doctor is the last hope for a steady stream of HIV carriers. They wait for free distribution of exorbitantly priced second-line anti-retroviral drugs to prolong their survival.
For the likes of porter Rajiv Yadav, plagued by a disease that is considered a stigma, the grandfatherly Briton, Jack Preger, is the god who has not failed them.
Preger has not only rushed to a HIV/AIDS combat zone that even the Indian government with its high-on-propaganda-low-on-action report card has so far feared to tread, but also offers monetary support to people like Yadav to pay his monthly room rent.
|Dr Jack Preger visits a Kolkata slum|
Thirty eight-year-old Yadav and countless others, who are now on the costly second line of drugs to survive, do not receive any assistance from the government. So it is natural that patients who pour in at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine (CSTM) here are frequently referred to Preger for free drugs.
The monthly treatment of an HIV carrier on the second line of treatment is anything between Rs.2,500 and Rs.9,000 per month, something unaffordable by Indian middle class standards.
According to UNAIDS statistics of May 2006, India has 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS, ahead of South Africa where the figure stands at 5.5 million. Official Indian statistics however put the number at 5.2 million.
"I was a TB patient and then one day during a blood check up I was detected with HIV. Since then it has been a long struggle and life has been akin to carrying the burden of a corpse. I feel weak and am unable to bear heavy weight," says Yadav, who migrated to this eastern metropolis from Bihar's Samastipur district.
"Now the sahib even pays my rent of Rs.500 every month," says Yadav with gratitude.
Says Aparesh Das (name changed), a haemophilia-affected 29-year-old from neighbouring South 24 Parganas district: "I have to undergo blood transfusion and that cost itself is huge. So far I have always purchased my medicines but I cannot afford it any more."
Aparesh, who is married and resides in a place which is about three hours journey from Kolkata, is helpless since he lives on the income of his father and the tuitions his wife gives to local students in their village.
"Nowhere in West Bengal could I find second line of drugs for free or even in subsidy. I work in a small private firm and my employer helped me initially. Now I would die but for the help of Preger," says Raja Mitra (name changed), a 47-year-old father of five daughters.
Preger, 76, with resources generated by his own efforts from friends abroad, has taken up the burden of treating AIDS patients, offering them second-line drugs under the ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy), free of cost.