Home / Politics / Policy /  West Bengal denies dengue has reached epidemic proportions

Deganga (North 24 Parganas, West Bengal): Death due to dengue, or death with dengue, that is the question.

Arifa Bibi, 35, of K.M. Chandpur village of Deganga block of North 24 Parganas district died on 9 October at a state-run hospital in Kolkata. The mother of two died due to “sepsis and multi-organ failure", says the death certificate.

About a week before she died, she was taken to the hospital, some 40km from her home, on the advice of a local physician, after she tested positive for dengue, said her husband Yusuf Ali. Her medical records show only close monitoring of plummeting platelet count, but no mention of dengue at all.

K.M. Chandpur is among the worst affected villages in West Bengal. According to locals, at least 15 people here have died in the past couple of months due to dengue.

In Deganga block alone, the unofficial death toll is several multiples of the number stated by chief minister Mamata Banerjee—on 12 October, she said only 14 people across the state had died due to dengue in recent weeks.

Banerjee, who is also the minister for health, said on 12 October that private pathological laboratories were responsible for spreading panic about dengue, while rubbishing reports that the vector or mosquito-borne disease had reached epidemic scale. Laboratories that had given inaccurate test reports would be penalised, she warned.

By then, the state’s healthcare infrastructure was struggling to cope with the menace and officials, including physicians, had got into a denial mode.

The state government chose to suppress facts instead of dealing with the menace in the right manner, said Satyajit Chakrabarti, a physician attached to government hospitals and the secretary of the Association of Health Service Doctors.

State-run hospitals are avoiding determination of dengue through tests such as NS1 antigen under pressure from the establishment, Chakrabarti said, adding that there’s an “unwritten diktat" even on private pathological laboratories now that they shouldn’t be conducting such tests.

A person who dies and who had tested positive for dengue may have died because of pre-existing conditions, said Debasish Biswas, chief vector control officer at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. A person dying with dengue does not necessarily die due to dengue, added this entomologist.

People are panicking, said Suraj Sinha, block medical officer (health) at Deganga. Every death now is being blamed on dengue, he added.

A day after Arifa Bibi died, her next door neighbour, 23-year old Monirul Mondal, was released from another hospital in Kolkata in a “haemodynamically stable and afebrile condition". That means his platelet count had stabilised and that he didn’t have fever anymore, but no mention of dengue again.

He was only advised to monitor for tell-tale signs of dengue such as skin rashes and bleeding from natural orifices, shows his medical records.

“I had a narrow escape," recalls Mondal. “I spent seven days in three hospitals in Kolkata, and I thought I would never return." Still feeble and confined to home, Mondal is now nursing his mother who since Saturday is showing the same symptoms: headache and high fever.

With queues outside government hospitals getting longer every day, patients are turning to quacks. In Gossainpur village, 3km from K.M. Chandpur, Alamgir Hossain, 31, has turned a star having nursed to health hundreds of people who had turned up at his medical store with fever in the past few months.

A three-storey vacant building opposite his store has been turned into a makeshift hospital, where Hossain is providing intravenous fluids to patients in critical condition. Completely self-taught, he and a bunch of locals are drawing blood samples and sending them to Kolkata to test for dengue.

“There’s not much you can do to deal with the virus," he said. Early detection and timely intervention are the keys to saving lives, and that’s what has turned Hossain into a saviour.

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