Singapore/Calcutta, Sept. 14: Soon Calcutta and Singapore may be tied by the bond of money. Before that, some blood ties have emerged in the form of the mosquito-inflicted disease: dengue.
It seems the steel-and-glass, manicured city-state has the same problem that is giving Calcutta mayor Bikash Bhattacharya sleepless nights.
Singapore, an island of 4.2 million people, has reported 9,540 cases of dengue fever up to September 12 ' surpassing the total recorded in the whole of 2004, when dengue infections rocketed to a 10-year high, Reuters reported.
The disease has claimed eight lives since the start of this year.
A crack team will start combing the streets of Singapore this weekend to eliminate mosquito-breeding grounds, a task the civic fathers in Calcutta woke up to after the dengue scare went out of hand.
The Calcutta mayor is not unaware of what Singapore is doing. “Their clinical approach in combating the disease is something that we should try to emulate, but we have not been able to reach that level so far,” he said.
Such has been the intensity of the disease in Singapore that last week, health minister Khaw Boon Wan urged public hospitals to delay non-urgent surgery in order to cope with the influx of dengue patients.
The government launched a series of measures to tackle the problem last year, including public awareness campaigns, regular fogging with insecticides and fines for residents who are found to have mosquitoes breeding in their homes.
Calcutta hasn’t thought of that yet, but the mayor seems inclined.
“We must think along the same lines,” Bhattacharya said.
Calcutta’s civic authorities had been in denial for a long time about dengue assuming epidemic proportions. Not so with Singapore.
The government there has compared the outbreak to the deadly SARS virus which hit Asia in May 2003 and claimed 33 lives in Singapore.
The government has set aside $17.9 million to curb the spread of the disease.
Bhattacharya expressed willingness to learn from Singapore’s experience. Singapore is very much in fashion since the chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s recent trip there to seek investment.
“Though they have had a dengue outbreak for much longer than in Calcutta, they have managed to keep the death figure low,” the mayor said.
In Bengal, 19 people have died so far this year.
Singapore’s mosquito-fighting commandos are hitting the streets at the weekend with a war-like attitude. “We will comb the streets, check the drains, look at the bins... the roof structures at all estates. We will find the breeding grounds and destroy them,” environment minister Yaacob Ibrahim said.
That sort of commitment has yet to be heard in Calcutta.
Bhattacharya said: “Despite all their effort, Singapore is struggling to control the disease. It is a tough job and given the problems of Calcutta, the situation becomes even more complex.”
Despite the slew of measures, dengue cases continue to swell in Singapore.