Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dengue or apathy?

Why does our administration fail time and again?

The other day at the saloon, I heard the person sitting next to me yelling through his mobile phone (I guessed to his friend), “Wow! Man! I’m so happy to know that you’re suffering from viral infection!!” To any bystander like me this expression was like a brutal joke. Gauging my perplexed gaze, the person continued, “Thank God! It’s not dengue.”

The fact is that we have started celebrating non-fatal diseases. And the reasons are justified. In a country where a staggering 1.7 million people suffer from Tuberculosis, 1.8 million are infected with Malaria, 5.7 million are living with HIV and other fatal diseases, people have started feeling fortunate if they, by chance, are infected with some form of non-fatal infections (provided one is not exposed to spurious drugs or HIV-infected syringes in the course of treatment). This goes on to connote our vulnerability and also the extent to which we have lost our faith in the health infrastructure and public administration. The vulnerability is to such a suffocating extent that every year, around this time, an avoidable contingency like dengue challenges the existence of the citizens of this country. The administration nonchalantly awaits the breaking news. Then again, there is actually no action that follows. What follows is the blame game and then a senseless, heartless and conscience-less debate on how many people have actually lost their lives. Followed by a series of meetings at the state-level (as health is a state subject) and at the central level too, to review the situation and to decide on an action plan. And for what? Just to find out whether the issue in question is an outbreak, an epidemic, an endemic or a pandemic?!?!? Amidst all this, human lives keep on falling one after the other.

In India, as per the World Health Organisation (WHO), since the year 2000 there have been around 36,000 cases of dengue infections (including 3,236 cases this year till now), taking the lives of almost 400 people. All these are known – the figures, the reasons – yet, no action is taken as a precaution to this infection. The outbreak this year has not only permeated institutions like AIIMS, but even the kin of the country’s Prime Minister, making it even scarier. But then, it would be wrong to say that no action has been taken. Some years back there was this radical decision taken, pertaining to the fine for breeding mosquitoes, which still stands at Rs.500. Honestly, this amount signals less of a fine and more of an incentive for any terrorist organisation! For them, at Rs.500, it makes more economic sense to breed mosquitoes and kill as many people rather than spending huge resources to the same effect.

By the time this magazine goes to print, thousands would be queuing up in clinics and dispensaries, desperately waiting for their blood counts. And every report that declares positive dengue would cry aloud of how the entire health and public administration has again put us on the threshold of demise. Ironic but true, if not the citizens of this country, at least mosquitoes do not have any reasons to complain.


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