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Dengue politics in West Bengal: Underreporting, distorted data hijack issue as death toll mounts

Kolkata: Asura Bibi welled up as she remembered her late husband Sirajul Islam, who succumbed to dengue over two months ago.

Asura, 29, a resident of Deganga block in North 24 Parganas district, is particularly appalled by the administration as none of the government officials visited her house to know about her predicament. What further aggravated her anger was the recent dengue deaths figure submitted by the West Bengal government in the Calcutta High Court, that confirmed just 39 dengue deaths in the state this year.

"The government has been playing with our emotions and has scant respect for the dead. Several people have died of dengue, including my husband, but instead of offering words of condolence they are trying to suppress everything. The doctors treating my husband at a government hospital told me that he was suffering from dengue and his platelet count had dropped to dangerous levels but his death certificate mentioned haemorrhagic syndrome as the cause," she said, sobbing in between.

Dengue. Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Sirajul, 36, an embroidery worker, died on 29 September at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, a state-run facility, after he was rushed there in a serious condition, a day before.

In fact, their families are not alone in their grief. Several people have lost their loved ones in villages of Deganga blocks, that has been the epicentre of the dengue outbreak this year in West Bengal.

Md Anwarul Haq, a local, claimed that he has shifted many people to various hospitals and has seen at least 50-60 deaths in Deganga due to dengue in the past three months. "I have rushed dozens of people suffering from high fever to hospitals. Over 50 people at least have died but the figures mentioned by the government have left me surprised and shocked," he said.

Md Sohrab Ali, who lost his relative Rashida Bibi, 38, to an unknown fever said that none of the government officials turned up at his door to inquire about her death. "She was suffering from high fever and passed away four days ago. Her death has been dismissed as unknown fever but she was suffering from dengue."

A section of the people is also aggrieved at the comments made by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in October, saying that nobody had died of dengue in Denganga this year when almost every household has a dengue patient and deaths have become routine.

"It is really shocking that the chief minister can make such insensitive statements. The toll is uncountable as Deganga block comprises over 80 villages and most of the casualties have gone unreported because deaths due to unknown fever have hardly been reported," fumed Md Dinbandhu Haldar, a local resident who added that people have been losing their lives due to dengue even in the state capital almost every day.

Contrary to the claims of fewer deaths by the state government, the district hospitals are still witnessing long queues of patients coming from far-flung areas to get their blood examined.

The medical-superintendent-cum-vice-principal (MSVP) of Habra district hospital though claimed that the number of patients has come down but blamed the people for failing to read the "warning signs" of the deathly mosquito.

"There has been a decrease in the number of people turning up with unknown fever. It might also be due to the change in temperature as winter has begun to set in. The need is to frame a popular policy to stop the breeding of Aedes aegypti. People should also read the warning signs of dengue and immediately take their relatives to the nearest health facility if they complain of vomiting, bleeding, abdomen swelling and respiratory distress," he said.

Deborshi Chakraborty, a Jadavpur University researcher who is among the seven persons who had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PILs) on 3 November in the Calcutta High Court seeking to form an expert committee to look into dengue menace has accused the government of trying to suppress figures.

"The motive behind filing the PIL was to request the high court to take cognisance of the deaths due to dengue in the state. The government has been trying to suppress reality by refusing to mention even the correct cause of deaths in the certificates. They have been dismissing the majority of deaths as unknown fever which is really absurd," said Deborshi.

Acting on the PILs, the court had then asked the state government to submit an affidavit on the dengue outbreak in the state.

Advocate General (AG) Kishore Dutta on 16 November submitted before a division bench of Acting Chief Justice J Bhattacharya and Justice Arijit Banerjee that 38 people had died of the vector-borne disease this year (from January to 15 November), including 15 in private hospitals.

The high court then questioned the reliability of the report submitted by the state government as the counsel of Deborshi challenged the figures by submitting the death certificates of four persons who had died of dengue at government hospitals before 15 November but whose names didn't figure in the list submitted by the government.

In the last hearing, on 24 November, the state government increased its official toll to 39 by confirming one more death due to the vector-borne disease and termed the ten PILs filed to be politically motivated and based on media reports.

Far away from the legal and political rumblings, people like Asura consider themselves to be cheated as they would never be able to know the exact reason that cut short the existence of their loved ones.


Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 20:33 PM

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