At least 33 people have tested positive for HIV in northern India after a fake doctor allegedly used a tainted needle while treating them.
Police in Bangarmau in the state of Uttar Pradesh arrested Rajendra Yadav, who allegedly passed himself off as a doctor. He visited his patients on foot or by bicycle at their homes and also provided medication, said Sushil Choudhary, Unnao district chief medical officer.
Yadav used to treat a range of conditions for just a few cents, citing an overburdened health system that is too expensive for most Indians.
Suspicions over malpractice were raised in November when health officials detected an alarming number of patients from the same area testing positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"We realized that a lot of cases are coming from just one area," said Choudhary. "We set up a tent, awareness sessions and provided treatment to the patients."
The infected individuals all claim they were treated by Yadav and complained that he never changed needles before giving them injections.
"There is no way to confirm how this happened. It may have been through an infected needle that was not changed," said Choudhary.
Police officials arrested Yadav at a relative's home in Bangarmau Wednesday. He will be charged in court Thursday for spreading a dangerous disease, attempting to commit culpable homicide and for impersonating a doctor.
"We are trying to identify how officials found out that this is the main guy, how they knew and who told them about him," said Arun Pratap Singh, a Bangarmau police official. "We are investigating the case to make sure that he is responsible."
Few people in the city knew about the case until the news broke. Mohammed Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Bangarmau, heard about Yadav from the local news but a friend came to his shop months ago and told him that he had contracted HIV. "His treatment is going on in Kanpur. He did not know how he got the infection," said Ahmad.
Not enough doctors
For a country with a population of 1.33 billion people, India's health care system is unable to meet the demand for services.
With a lack of sufficient healthcare, many Indians, especially those in rural areas, often resort to seeking treatment from unqualified doctors who charge a nominal fee.
In 2017, there was one doctor for every 1,596 Indians, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The Indian government has been taking steps to increase the quality of health care by establishing new medical colleges and upgrading existing ones.
At the start of the month, the government announced its plan to offer free health care to 500 million people across India but has not provided more details on the ambitious project. According to the 2017-18 economic survey, India spent only 1.5% of its GDP on health services. The government is aiming to increase this to 2.5% by 2025.