As migrants continue their trek, doctors warn of lifelong health issues

Updated: May 16, 2020, 12:16 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Say overexertion could damage bones, ligaments, and tissue of feet and also lead to cardiac and renal problems that may last forever; advise them to stay put in the city

Wounded feet of a 70-year-old woman, who walked to Akola from Navi Mumbai earlier this month. File pic
Wounded feet of a 70-year-old woman, who walked to Akola from Navi Mumbai earlier this month. File pic

City health experts have a word of caution for migrant labourers who are forced to walk home amid the lockdown. They have advised them to drop their plan of either walking or cycling kilometres to reach their hometown as the physical strain could cause temporary to permanent damages to their muscles, bones, veins and cartilages.

Since the implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown, thousands of workers opted to walk home in the absence of a job and consequently money to feed themselves and their family.

On Thursday evening, two people died in different incidents. Motiram Jadhav, 43, set out on a journey to his village at Adgaon in Raigad district on foot with his family of seven, including children. Soon after reaching Pen, he complained of uneasiness and lay down on the roadside to rest, but he never woke up.

Harish Chander Shankarlal, 45, who walked/ran 30 km from Bhayander to Vasai Road station to catch a Shramik special train to Rajasthan, died after vomiting just metres away from the railway station.

On May 9, three migrant workers — Lalluram, 55, Prem Bahadur, 50, and Anees Ahmed, 42, — set off on foot from their houses in different parts of Maharashtra for their hometown in Uttar Pradesh. Moments after entering Madhya Pradesh, the three fainted and were declared dead at a hospital. Police said they died of dehydration and fatigue.

So far, over 25 migrant workers across India have died trying to return to their hometowns in the scorching heat, according to the home department. Apart from the 17 killed in Aurangabad, rest have died of due to fatigue, dehydration, and other health issues.

Overall heath impact

Dr Altaf Patel, director (medicine) at Jaslok Hospital, said, "These are desperate steps being taken by the poor migrant workers. They should stay put rather than exposing themselves to the infection. Dehydration, malnutrition, electrolyte disturbances can lead to temporary to lifelong health issues."

Orthopaedic injuries

Professor Dr Pradeep Bhosale, director arthritis and joint replacement surgeon at Nanavati Hospital, said, "This is called unplanned or unaccustomed long walk or cycling, wherein one puts extra long hours straining physically. This will surely cause harm to leg muscles, joints, cartilages and bones, adversely impacting the weight bearing joints, ankle, knee, spine and hip."

"Normally, when someone walks five to 10 km the damage is temporary as nature does the self-healing, but unaccustomed long walk can permanently damage the cartilage and joints, and the pain might last long."

Dr Bhosale added that though the wear and tear of muscles in children heal faster, they may still experience weakness in their muscles as well as bones. "In a serious condition, this might cause permanent deformation of bones. And mid-aged people might face early arthritis problem, and senior citizens may have to suffer aggravated knee and joint pain issues."

Cardiac and renal risk

Dr Ajay Chaughule, a senior cardio thoracic surgeon, said acute exertion and severe dehydration adversely impacts kidney functioning. "It might also cause vascular thrombosis," he added. "Unaccustomed walking will lead to sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack."

He also pointed at the mental stress these migrant workers are facing due to lack of job security or source of livelihood and fear of COVID-19; all this anxiety leads to migration.

Neurological impact

Eminent neurosurgeon Dr Shasank Joshi said, "Excessive walking might cause dehydration, which will in turn make blood thick, thereby leading to sudden brain stroke and it could be life threatening if no medical aid is provided immediately."

He added, "In case of elderly and those with prolonged uncontrolled diabetes, long distance walking can make the leg nerves weak, which can cause loss of sensation in the lower limb, making them vulnerable to minor cracks to non-healing wounds, which if untreated may lead to septicaemia and subsequent amputation."

Dr Ashok Rathod, former HoD, Paediatrics Grant Medical College and JJ Group of hospitals, said, "Newborns and breast-feeding mothers will be more in need of adequate rest and safe place for feeding, apart from having sufficient food to eat."

"Also, menstrual hygiene will be a matter of concern for many young women, which might lead to infections, as they are away from home, toilet, and sufficient water facility" Dr Rathod added.

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