The village afflicted by the disease is remote and accessibility is difficult.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo/Representative)
The village afflicted by the disease is remote and accessibility is difficult.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo/Representative)

Odisha probes death of 15 tribals in Malkangiri due to ‘mysterious diseases’

Doctors allege the villagers show greater faith in local witch doctors than state medical care.
By Debabrata Mohanty | Edited by Abhinav Sahay | Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
UPDATED ON JUN 03, 2020 07:36 PM IST

Officials of Maoist-affected Malkangiri district are investigating the alleged mysterious deaths of 15 adult Koya tribals in a village over past 3 months amid allegations that the villagers did not get proper healthcare.

In the last 3 months, 15 persons from Kenduguda village, having population of about 400, under Malkangiri block of the same district have died with many of them complaining of swollen legs and swollen stomach. Local villagers said that most of those who died didn’t have the strength even to walk or stand properly and suffered acute respiratory problems.

“As the village is a little remote and accessibility is difficult, many of the villagers consult a local witch doctor. Though a village sub-centre was located some 4-5 km away at Padmagiri and primary health centre at Pandripani, villagers did not go there for treatment of their ailments,” said Dasharath Padiami, a member of Malkangiri zilla parishad.

The village is deep inside the Malkangiri block and is not easily accessible as the 20 km stretch of the road that connects the village to the mainland is in a bad shape, local villagers said.

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Malkangiri health officials said those who died were in the age group of 25 to 65 years and all of them showed symptoms such as cold, fever, vomiting and swelling of legs before they died. The first death due to the ‘mysterious disease’ was reported on February 24, while the latest occurred on Monday, when a 35 year-old man Mona Kabasi died. There are at least 10 more, who are showing similar symptoms.

A medical team from Malkangiri that visited the village suspects the deceased could be suffering from kidney or heart ailments. “Though our team is still there and still trying to find out more details, we suspect them to be suffering from chronic kidney disease, anemia and tuberculosis. We are trying to get the villagers to hospital, but they seem to repose more faith in witch doctors that worsened their problems. Most of the villagers are reluctant to come to the hospital,” said chief district medical officer of Malkangiri, Arun Kumar Padhi.

“We are camping in the village and screening patients and sending them to district headquarters hospital if necessary. But the patients are returning back to their homes and consulting witch doctors,” said one of the doctors, who has been sent to the area. He refused to give his name.

Malkangiri district collector Manish Agrawal said there is some pressure on the health infrastructure of the district as several doctors have been diverted towards Covid-19 duties. “I would be able to get a clear picture once the medical team return after analysing the causes of the deaths and disease,” he said.

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