The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Malda in gastro grip

Malda, Oct. 24: Hundreds of villagers have come down with gastro-enteritis in two blocks of Harishchandrapur in the past week, stretching the health centres and setting off the alarm.

Mashaldabazar block medical officer Anshuman Sarkar said 14 people, three of them children, had died after they went down with the disease in the past week. He called the situation “alarming”.

Health officials blamed the outbreak on the contaminated fish netted from the fetid ponds used to rot the jute. “The villagers went down with the gastro-enteritis after they ate the contaminated fish from the ponds where the farmers had decomposed the jute,” Sarkar said.

Harishchandrapur I and II blocks in the Chachol subdivision, about 90 km from the district headquarters of Malda, are prone to gastric ailments. But this is the first time that a gastro-enteritis epidemic has broken out in Harishchandrapur.

Pancahyat officials said many patients were lying in their homes, unattended by doctors. The health centres are few and far between. Bad roads compound problems.

The worst-hit villages include Kushida, Belchur, Mashaldabazar and Talbangrua.

District magistrate Ashok Bala said he sent a medical team the moment he heard of the outbreak. Quoting deputy chief medical officer Shyamapada Basak, the head of the team, Bala said the situation was under control.

The administration has despatched packets of saline and medicine to the affected blocks, Bala added.

Villagers disputed the administration’s claims, saying it had made little efforts to contain the situation. Abul Bashar of Kushida, one of the worst-affected villages, said the under-staffed, ill-equipped health centres were overwhelmed by the large number of patients. “The health centres have too few doctors and no medicine to deal with a situation like this.”

Nargis Khatun of Belchur said scores of patients were lying in their homes as “there is no transport to bring them to the health centres down the bone-breaking roads”.

“You must come to the village if you want to see the real condition of the patients,” Nargis said at Mashaldabzar health centre.

The Mashaldabazar block medical officer said the doctors and the paramedics could not visit the affected villages in time because the lone jeep at the health centre was “out of order” for months. He acknowledged that two doctors at the health centre were not enough.

Desperate for vehicles, the health officials virtually commandeered a jeep of the block office.

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