Down with cerebral malaria, 20-year-old Manoj Behera was cursing his life. He thought he would never recover from his illness and die in the darkness, leaving behind his poor parents to their fate.
A resident of Katupali under Jhumpura block in Odisha’s Keonjhar district, the semi-educated Manoj had dreams to go for higher studies and get a good job to support his family. But the poverty of the family forced him to quit his studies and assist his parents in agriculture.
This rabi season, the young Manoj had planned to take up vegetable cultivation, hoping it would fetch more money than traditional crops. All his hope and expectations went haywire when he suffered from cerebral malaria, considered to be a killer disease in the area.
He had lost many of his relatives, friends and neighbours to the disease. Most of the affected people died because of inaccessibility to good health-care facilities in the locality and inability to afford medical expenses.
Fate had its own will. Dr U.N. Barik, a physician who works with Essar Steel, spotted the frail Manoj during a visit to the area. He discovered the disease had almost swallowed up the young man. The medical team headed by Dr Barik, picked Manoj from the courtyard of his thatched house and after primary treatment referred him to Keonjhar district headquarters hospital, 38 km from Katupali, in the company’s ambulance.
The doctor never stopped there. Every day, he would travel in the hilly terrain to the hospital to see the progress of Manoj. Finally, his effort paid off and the boy got fully cured. He is back in his business, assisting his parents in agricultural work.
Manoj's plaight is just one of several such tragic stories in the region. According to government sources, more than two hundred people perish from cerebral malaria in the district every year.
With the efforts of Essar Steel Limited (ESL), which has its beneficiation plant at Dabuna near Katupali, the casualty rate has considerably declined in recent times. According to ESL project director Pramod Kumar Gupta, the company’s corporate social responsibility team — through its specialised health clinic — is providing healthcare services to nearly ten thousand people in the area. The health clinic, apart from malaria, also caters to other primary diseases like viral fever, fungal infections, cold and cough, joint pain and anemia.