Police officials in northern India were searching on Tuesday for a fake doctor suspected of infecting dozens of his patients with H.I.V. by reusing a dirty syringe.
The patients were treated by what is known as a “jhola chhaap doctor,” a wandering medical practitioner whose only verifiable qualification (a chhaap is a trademark or official seal) is a jhola, the cotton shoulder bag from which they dispense treatments.
Most are untrained, and some of the cures they offer can be dangerous, but in India, where the health care system is tremendously challenged, many poor people often feel they have no choice but to pay a few rupees for their services and hope for the best.
In this case, health officials in Unnao, a primarily rural district two hours’ drive southwest of Lucknow, became concerned last July when an unusual number of patients visiting a government hospital began testing positive in routine H.I.V. screening.
Medical officials in Unnao said that they had then tested hundreds of people who lived in the same areas as these H.I.V.-positive patients, including those who seemed perfectly healthy.
At least 33, they found, tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. All of those who tested positive said they had been treated by the same unqualified medical practitioner.
Police officers in the Unnao area are now looking for a jhola chhaap doctor in his mid 40s who rides a bicycle, often sits on a platform in the middle of villages and offers dubious cures. If arrested, police officials said, he is likely to face charges including spreading dangerous disease, impersonating a doctor and practicing medicine without a license.
According to medical officials, he told many of his patients that an injection would make them feel better, and the patients said he kept reusing the same syringe without cleaning it.