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Courting death with every sip in Maharashtra village

Water from bore well and community taps with its high salt content is the main cause of growing kidney patients in Karamkhed. Neha Bhayana reports.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2009 01:03 IST
Neha Bhayana

Honourable Health Ministersaheb, I am from Buldhana, just like you. I live in Karamkhed village, about a two-hour drive from your family home.

Ministersaheb, my father is very sick. His kidneys have failed.

There is no testing facility at the hospitals in Buldhana, so I saved every rupee I got from working in people’s fields and took him to a hospital in Akola district four years ago.

The doctor prescribed expensive medicines and dialysis. But there is no dialysis centre in Buldhana; nor are the medicines available here.

I can’t afford to take my father to Akola for the treatment. He is too weak to even walk the three kilometres to the bus stand. We stopped going to the Akola doctor three years ago and discontinued the medicines a year ago.

Father just lies in a corner all day, writhing in pain. He can’t eat or drink. He is wasting away before my eyes.

Saheb, you are the health minister and also Buldhana’s guardian minister. Please help!

Sincerely, Nyaneshwar Khanderao

Daily wage earner Nyaneshwar Khanderao has not penned this letter. But had the 18-year-old not been unlettered, this is how he would have expressed the anguish he feels.

Khanderao’s father Mahadev (65) will not live long.

Maharashtra Health Minister Dr Rajendra Shinge should prepare for a backbreaking ride if he plans to pay the family a visit. The road to Karamkhed, about 500 km northeast of Mumbai, is an undulating mass of gravel.

The minister need not bother asking villagers for directions to the kidney patient’s house.

Behind every door in the village is at least one person suffering from either kidney stone or kidney failure.

But no one talks about it. If they did, it would diminish the already bleak chances of their sons getting a bride.

Karamkhed’s reputation as a “kidney disease village” is well known.

Ask Santosh Khanderao (28). His 22-year-old brother Anant had two kidney stone operations before he died from kidney failure last month — one of 20 such deaths in five years.

But Santosh doesn’t like to talk about it. “Don’t print my photograph or the name of our village in any local newspaper. No boy will get a bride,” he says.

The water from the bore well and the community taps has a high salt and fluoride content, the main cause of the many kidney patients in the 200 villages in this saline belt of Vidarbha district.

Safe drinking water would help prevent more cases, but one massive water supply project is stalled because the farmers are too poor to pay their 10 per cent of the cost of the canals; another has a 2011 deadline.

Until then, Khanderao would advise Dr Shingne not to drink water in Karamkhed. No visitors do.

Despite the high incidence of kidney disease here, there is still no dialysis centre in the district.

In response to the demand, the state did get a dialysis machine for the Buldhana district hospital last year. A new room was constructed, the machine installed and the centre inaugurated with much fanfare in June. But there is still no nephrologist to operate it.

“The ceiling gave way last month and a slab of concrete fell on the equipment,” says social worker Rabbani Deshmukh.

Dr Shinge, though, is proud of the progress made so far.

“There was no dialysis facility in Buldhana for many years. I had one installed three months ago,” he says. “Neighbouring Jalna and Jalgaon districts still don’t have one.”

Reminded that the centre is not open, and has never treated a single patient, the minister remains optimistic.

“It is not functional but it will be,” he says. “There are some minor problems.”

Kidney disease patients who can afford the travel and treatment costs go to hospitals in Akola, Nagpur (350 km away) or even Mumbai.

“Others simply die,” says Jalgaon-based private practitioner Sandeep Wakekar, who sends at least 10 kidney disease patients to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital every month.