Karnataka: Villagers refuse to drink lake water after body of HIV-infected woman found

Hubbali: Administration employees drain water from the 36-acre lake in Morab, around 30km from Hubballi (PTI)

Local authorities in the Navalgund taluk of Karnataka’s northern district of Dharwad have been forced to empty a 15-acre lake, the only source of drinking water for Morab village here, after a decomposed body of a woman reportedly infected with HIV was recovered from it four days ago.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the 150-odd residents of the village had refused to consume the lake water over reports that the woman had recently been tested positive for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) by a private laboratory. They were allegely afraid that they might contract HIV/AIDS if they consumed the lake water.

“One week ago a woman, who was reportedly tested HIV positive, drowned in the lake. Four days ago we recovered her body. People in the village knew that she was HIV positive. They took an unanimous decision to stop drinking water from the lake unless the existing water was pumped out and fresh water filled from the Malaprabha dam. The decision was also approved by the local panchayat,” Naveen Hullur, tehsildar of Navalgund taluk, said.

As Morab residents stopped using the water from the lake for drinking purposes and instead took to travelling nearly three kilometres for fresh water, local authorities decided to empty the lake, Hullur said. “The water in the lake is being cleared and will be emptied in a couple of days. Within five days, water from Malaprabha dam will be released and this will be used to fill the lake again,” he added.

An official from Dharwad district AIDS Prevention and Control Unit, who visited the village Wednesday, said that people were perturbed by the sight and smell of the decomposed body when it had surfaced four days ago. “The claim that the lake should be cleared because the woman was infected with HIV seems to be an afterthought,” the official said.

“We tried to tell the people that HIV spreads only in four ways — through unprotected sex, unsafe blood transfusion, unsterilised syringes and from mother to child — and that the virus needs blood to survive, but the people were not convinced,” the official said.

According to a health official, the woman who died in the lake had tested positive for HIV in October, but it was yet to be confirmed by a government centre. The water emptied from the lake is being fed to farm land nearby.