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Apathy tale in child-death belt

June 8: Going by what villagers told a team of experts today, it seems the Murshidabad administration could have saved the children who fell to a mystery fever in Lalgola subdivision if it had responded to reports of similar deaths a month ago in neighbouring Jangipur.

Villagers in Lalgola told the team of senior health officials from Calcutta, touring the area following reports of the deaths over the past week, that “similar deaths in Jangipur” had made them nervous but local health officials were unperturbed.

Tales of apathy and rejection of early signals and a plea for medicines met director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee and other officials as they toured Purhidanga, Nasipur, Kadamtala and some other villages to find out the nature of the disease, how it spun out of control and whether the deaths were avoidable.

“We told the officers about our fears, about the Jangipur deaths. They said there was nothing to be nervous about a typical summer-time fever. Now things have turned bad… children are dying. Give us medicines,” Parimal Das said at Purhidanga, voicing the concern of the crowd around Chatterjee.

In Calcutta, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra was unable to recall reports of the Jangipur deaths, if any, but hoped the truth team would return with “all that is there to know”.

“We have to find out whether the deaths in Jangipur relate to the Lalgola cases,” said a visiting expert from the School of Tropical Medicine.

“We think the disease could be a result of bronchopneumonia. But nothing can be said till we have tested the blood samples,” Chatterjee said.

A medical team from the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases and the School of Tropical Medicine is likely to return to the city tomorrow with the collected blood samples for examination.

Reports said the fever, accompanied by convulsions, has claimed the lives of 31 children over the past six days. At least 127 children across the subdivision have been admitted to the local hospital.

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