Exclusive: The husband of the pregnant woman from Sattur who was infected with HIV following a blood transfusion at a government hospital, offers support for Kamini* in an exclusive interview with The Lede
Two-year-old baby girl Kamini’s father’s desperate battle to get retroviral treatment as well as some justice for his child, continues. Kamini was infected with HIV allegedly when she was given a blood transfusion at the Coimbatore Government General Hospital. Hospital authorities deny the charge.
In a similar case in December 2018, a pregnant woman was given blood at the Sattur Primary Healthcare Centre. This blood turned out to be HIV positive. The horrifying incident had hit media headlines at the time and the state government quickly stepped in to begin retroviral treatment for the young woman.
Almost three months later, as Kamini’s case came to our notice, The Lede contacted the husband of the pregnant woman. We will call him Mahesh* to protect his identity.
In an exclusive interview, Mahesh told The Lede’s Sudhakar Balasundaram a gruelling tale of social stigma, financial hardship and government apathy that he and his family faced once the media furore had died down.
Q1: Two-year-old Kamini developed HIV following transfusion of blood at the Coimbatore Government Hospital. But the Dean of the hospital says that this is false. Your wife has undergone similar trauma. How do you see this?
Mahesh: It is terrible to know that such a thing has happened to a two-year-old child. This is a very wrong thing that has happened—and it is for the second time. This needs to be punished. Such gross negligence is endangering lives. What does that poor child know? She has not even begun her life. I am unable to digest this.
We are yet to come out of the tragedy that has befallen us. We are continually wondering what people are going to say about our own child.
I feel afraid when I think of young Kamini. People will look at her father the same way they look at me—the stigma is always there. I kept praying that no one should go through the hell that we have gone through. But it has happened to this child. At this rate, Tamil Nadu will soon become the top state in AIDS, it appears.
Q2: What did the Tamil Nadu state government do to help you? What do you think needs to be done by the government for Kamini?
Mahesh: The state government should definitely have taken action against those responsible for the negligence, after my wife suffered. Because proper action was not taken, more such incidents are taking place. But when you ask them, they say we have taken action.
Blood needs to be tested twice before being transfused. People who get infected with HIV through blood transfusions get to know that they have contracted the virus only three months after it has entered their body. The government spends money on all sorts of things—why can’t it spend more on doing these tests and ensuring that blood is safe?
Q3: What compensation did you get? What do you think the government should do for Kamini?
Mahesh: You know when the child is subjected to this, only parents can feel her pain. No one else will know or understand that pain. If the state government can ensure a good life for Kamini, it will be useful.
As far as we are concerned, the government made promises but did not deliver. Radhakrishnan sir (former Health Secretary) asked us to admit my wife to the (Madurai) Government Rajaji Hospital and we admitted her out of trust in him.
Initially they gave my wife good treatment. They said they would give me a government job and this and that. We never asked for anything. They themselves said they will provide us with government jobs and compensation. Now if we call them, there is no answer, there is no information.
Since they offered, I asked for government jobs for both my wife and for myself. The reason was that due to this issue, I did not get a job afterwards. Our neighbours began to say that since my wife has HIV, I too have it and they started avoiding me. The minister from our district promised jobs to both of us, but so far nothing has happened.
Because we kept insisting, they gave us some land. We had asked for fixed deposits in the name of our children too but we did not get that either.
Q4: How is your wife’s health now?
Mahesh: As of now she is doing okay. The former Dean of the hospital, Shanmugasundaram sir ensured that she got good treatment but the current Dean is not talking to us and does not even permit us to meet him.
Q5: Do you feel that action needs to be taken immediately as the issue happens?
Mahesh: Definitely sir. At that time itself, any compensation or treatment or any help should be given. Because at that moment, I am only worried about my wife’s life. I never even thought about asking for anything else. At that time everyone said they will give us all sorts of things.
It is very wrong to wash one’s hands off by saying someone has made a mistake, especially when it comes to the healthcare sector.
I am a daily wage worker. If I do not do that job properly, I will lose my job. Everyone should have that fear of losing one’s job. Similarly even in the healthcare sector, only if you remove negligent people from their jobs will others be careful while doing their duty.
Q6: Is it correct, in your opinion, to reabsorb people who have been removed from their posts for negligence?
Mahesh: No, those who have been negligent and therefore suspended should be altogether removed from that occupation. Only then will such mistakes stop happening. It is not correct to take back such people who are on contracts.
My wife said she will commit suicide. I counselled her and told her that we should ensure that no one else undergoes what we have suffered. Now once again, the same thing has happened to this child. I am feeling very troubled.
Q7: What does your wife feel about Kamini getting infected with HIV?
Mahesh: I saw it on TV and I told her about it. She was very upset. Only those who have undergone that pain will understand it.
In front of microphones people will announce that they will give this and that, and then they will leave. They do not understand that no matter what or how much they give, life will never be the same for us again.
A person can even be killed, but to give someone a disease and to watch that person die a little more every day—it is not something that anyone can or should bear.
Q8: What difficulties are you facing now?
Mahesh: The minister from our area gave us Rs 2 lakhs. Of this, we gave Rs 50,000 to my wife’s family. Then we paid off some earlier loans and have some amount left.
We are in a difficult situation. I don’t know how we are going to live but I am definitely going to fight this. We will then see who stands by me.
Q9: The Dean of the Coimbatore GH has said that Kamini did not contract HIV through blood transfusion at his hospital. Did a similar thing happen in your case?
Mahesh: Of course we faced the same problem. For the first 10 days after we realised that she had been infected with HIV due to the blood transfusion, my wife did not want to tell anyone. But I went and spoke to the authorities – they all shamed me.
It was only thanks to the media that the negligence of the Health Department actually came to light. If the hospital staff deny charges after giving infected blood to that child, there is nothing more shameful than that. They should be removed from their jobs. They should be arrested. That is the only way to resolve this.
Yesterday it has happened in my home, today it has happened in Mani’s* (Kamini’s father) home – if we leave it at this, tomorrow Tamil Nadu will be destroyed. No one will be able to live.
Q10: Your comments on the Dean of the Coimbatore GH telling Kamini’s father not to speak with the media.
Mahesh: If the media is not there, the truth will not come to light. If you want to take an issue to the people, then definitely the media needs to be told.
If the same thing had happened to a politician’s child, will the hospital be quiet and leave it like this?
Only the poor go to government hospitals. But when such problems happen, the authorities pretend like nothing happened. This is condemnable.
(*Names have been changed to protect identity)