Recently “The Hindu” had published an article about Kala-Azar aka visceral leishmaniasis, a parasite killer that’s second in the world, next only to Malaria. The infection spreads through sand-fly and is limited to districts in India (in states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh), Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The sad part is the cure for it has been indigenously developed in Bengal over a century ago, still, fatality is high even today.
Why my sudden interest on the infection?
A few months ago, my uncle had come visiting us and was recalling his memorable moments with his elder brother – my (late) father T.N.C.Varadan; when he mentioned Kala-Azar, the first time I heard about this disease. Flashback to 1956, when my dad, who was 23 years old at the time was developing high fever every day. The family was living in Ranganathan Street, T.Nagar, Madras. The family doctor was treating for Typhoid with no success, even after a week or more the fever was not going away. For a second opinion, my uncle took my dad to another doctor, who correctly detected it was Kala-Azar – not commonly seen in South India. I believe even today, Kala-Azar is difficult to diagnose, it is easy to be confused with other infections, so it was lucky the second doctor got it right, 61 years back and saved my dad – and made it possible for me to be born to him decades later !!!
The treatment for the disease, then, was a medicine that was manufactured by Bengal Immunity. The trauma didn’t end with the correct diagnosis and sourcing the medicine which was supposed to be administered intravenous, unfortunately, the doctor injected it intramuscularly which resulted in my dad not able to lift or feel anything on his right-hand. The medicine in those days had metal content which injected intramuscularly had caused the problem. This meant, giving hot-press over the affected area for every few minutes for the next 10 days. My uncle told me, for the first few days my dad was unable to feel anything even when boiling hot water was used for the hot-press; slowly the metal was ejected out of the body naturally and my dad started getting better.