A six-year-old HIV infected boy was allegedly denied treatment in Kolkata's state-run hospitals, triggering angry reactions and an appeal to President A.P.J Abdul Kalam for help.
Sonu Laskar needed immediate surgery for an enlarged spleen but was allegedly turned away from various state-run hospitals because of his HIV status.
The son of a daily wage earner at Sonarpur in South 24 Parganas district had been under treatment for thalassaemia at the NRS Medical College and Hospital here since mid-2001. In May 2004 he was found infected with HIV too.
Since then, he has been turned away from two other hospitals - SSKM and Medical College Hospital (MCH).
Ohio-based AIDS researcher and healthcare activist Kunal Saha has sent a letter to West Bengal Health Minister Surya Kanta Mishra for help and also sent copies to the president and the state Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi for their intervention.
"We draw your urgent attention to the most reckless incidence of medical failure as three major government hospitals in Kolkata (SSKM, MCH and NRS) have refused... ("spleenectomy") a surgical procedure essential for a six-year old child, Sanu Laskar, only because the child is HIV positive," Saha wrote in his letter.
"Ironically, this child is also a thalassaemia patient who became infected with HIV only through contaminated blood that he received from a blood bank in Kolkata," Saha said.
Sonu's spleen reportedly became enlarged about seven months ago. An urgent operation was needed but doctors at the NRS Medical College refused to operate and referred him to MCH without assigning any reason.
According to Sonu's father Siraj, at MCH he was examined in the special HIV cell, sent to the paediatric surgery department and finally referred to the premier SSKM.
The game continued, and SSKM referred him back to the MCH on May 3, on grounds that the boy was "treated previously in the department of paediatric surgery" of that hospital.
"It is a shame that doctors at three government hospitals have refused to perform essential surgery because of the unfounded fear of spread of HIV. This has caused needless harassment for the hapless boy and his family," Saha said.
R.S. Shukla, special secretary of the state health department and director of the West Bengal State HIV AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSACS), has said he would try and find out what happened.
"We will look into it though it is also true that hundreds of HIV sufferers get the same treatment from the hospitals," Shukla told IANS.
The Bengal Network of Positive People (BNPP) has threatened a protest movement against the recurrence of such cases in government hospitals.
Adding to their outrage, local reports said a full-blown AIDS patient, who could barely breathe and move, was made to wait all day Tuesday at the MCH only to be denied a bed after he refused to bribe a ward boy.
Just two months ago in February, another thalassaemia child, Maniur Rahamon, who also became HIV-positive through contaminated blood, was refused a similar spleen surgery by the SSKM and MCH doctors.
"Only after we moved the state health minister's office and took the necessary steps, did the MCH hospital arrange for the surgery," Saha said.